Chapter 4: Baptism of Fire

In their 1942 offensive the Japs shifted their assault to the southeast and planned a two-pronged attack, one for the control of southeastern New Guinea and a second to thrust through the Solomon Islands and cut the American supply line to Australia.  Neither attack reached its objective. The Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May 1942) dealt the Japs a decisive licking and five months later the Jap advance toward our supply lines was halted in the Solomons.

Their failure by sea did not discourage the Japs’ effort to capture Port Moresby, which would afford them an invasion base only 340 miles from the Cape York Peninsula in Australia. In July they landed at Buna, Gona and Sanananda on the northeast coast of Papua and pushed southward across the Papuan Peninsula.  By early August the Japs had eleven thousand men fighting their way across the deep gorges and razor-back ridges of the Owen Stanley Mountains and descending to within thirty-two miles of the port.  Here the Australians stemmed the Jap onslaught and by 14 September the advance was held at the Imita Range, south of Ioribaiwa.

   Bombing of the Jap supply line and a flank attack by the Aussies forced the enemy to make a hasty withdrawal up the trail. A Jap attempt to land troops at Milne Bay had been repulsed.  Just as the tide of invasion began to ebb. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief of the Southwest Pacific Area, committed his first American troops. Both the 4lst Division and 32d Division were ready but due to the fact that the 32d was in a position where it could be moved more easily, it got the initial call, and the first elements proceeded to Port Moresby. Allied strategy now was shifting from defense to counterattack. The Japs were being pursued by the Aussies toward Kokoda. While the Australians were doing this the 32d Division made a wide envelopment to the east and hit the enemy’s left flank in the vicinity of Buna. This move would cut off the retreat of the main Jap force facing the Australians.  Plans called for flying this force to the seacoast southeast of Buna.

The enemy had constructed two almost impregnable defensive lines in the swampy jungle. One lay across the Soputa-Sanananda road while the other was in front of Buna itself. The fighting took place in a narrow strip on the northeastern coast of Papua extending on both sides of Buna Mission, the prewar seat of government for the area. It was bounded on the west by one of many outlets of the Girua River and on the east by the coast a half mile south of Cape Endaiadere. The battleground was about three and a half miles long and three quarters of a mile deep. The whole area was a flat, low-lying plain patterned with steaming jungle, impassable swamp, coconut plantations, open fields and, of course, shoulder-high Kunai grass. Typical of the rivers is the Girua which is forty to sixty feet wide until it disappears in the swamps southwest of Buna Village, and eventually finds the ocean through several mouths. The principal swamp in the Buna area lies between Entrance Creek and Simemi Creek and reaches inland to the vicinity of Simemi and Ango. It was absolutely impenetrable, a fact of vital importance in the fighting.

Most of the drier land is covered with a thick growth of Kunai grass or plantations of coconut palms.  This coarse grass usually grows to a height of more than six feet, but its height varies greatly.  In the open ground southeast of Buna Mission was the landing field, most important Allied objective. It was 105 air miles from Port Moresby and would be a source of support for further advance along the north coast of New Guinea.

The approach to Buna was difficult by land or sea.  It had no harbor. Coral reefs abound near the shore and are scattered over the sea as much as twenty-five miles from land. Native canoes had to be used for carrying cargo. On the land. Buna is cut off by swamps and creeks and can be approached only along four narrow corridors, each with its trail.

The coastal trail runs from Cape Sudest past Hariko then north to Simemi Creek, southeast to the airstrip.  Here it meets a second trail which comes from Dobodura and Simemi Village and skirts the east side of the main swamp south of Buna. After the junction, the trail crosses the creek on a permanent bridge and continues along the northern edge of the airfield to the Mission. Between the bridge and the Mission it is a passable motor road. The third trail comes from Dobodura on the west side of the main swamp, joins a trail from Soputa at Ango Corner, and then runs to a fork about twelve hundred yards from the coast.  The right fork leads southeast to the Mission while the left fork crosses Entrance Creek and proceeds to Buna Village. The other joins the left fork at the Ango Trail.

These trails averaged twelve feet in width but were so low-lying that a heavy rain put many sections under water. Engineers worked constantly to put down co-duroy in order to make routes passable, for all supply and evacuation was based on these trails.  Along with terrain difficulties went problems inherent in the uniformly hot and muggy climate. A rise in temperature of only one or two degrees increase physical discomfort tremendously. And to add further complication, the campaign was conducted in the months when precipitation, temperature and humidity were the highest.

Malaria and dengue fever were constant threats to the men, who also suffered from depression and weariness caused by the climate and inadequate food.  A large percentage of all units became hospitalized from fevers. For every two men who were battle casualties, five were out of action because of fever.

The Jap force at Buna numbered about twenty-two hundred troops; of these eighteen hundred were com-bat troops. Air support for this campaign was furnished by the Fifth Air Force. The air transport of troops, as conducted by the 374th Troop-Carrier Group, was a major feat at this stage of the war.

After many weeks of rough fighting during which attack after attack had been repulsed, men of the 32d Division were tired and dispirited. The Jap line had not even been dented. Finally, around 4 December,.  the enemy lines were broken enough so that a wedge could be driven to the sea near Buna Village, but here the attack again bogged down.

With this stalemate existing it was decided to commit more American troops to the fight in New Guinea.  The I63d Infantry Regiment, with detachments from the 41st Signal Company, 41st Quartermaster Company, 116th Engineer Battalion, and 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion, acting as Combat Team 163 under the command of Jens A. Doe, then a colonel, was alerted in Australia on 14 December. The convoy carrying this combat team was at Townsville on Christmas Day 1942. Following a day marked by special religious services, distribution of Red Cross gift boxes and the serving of fresh-baked bread for the first time, it proceeded to Port Moresby, arriving there on 27 December.

While the right wing of the Allied force in Papua was carrying out the Buna operation, the left wing was attacking Jap positions defending Sanananda, a few miles west of Girua River. After the fall of Buna, elements of the 32d Division moved up the coast to the Sanananda front while the Australian 18th Brigade and the 163d Infantry came by way of Ango Corner.  Jap defenses west of the Girua River were in many ways stronger than those at Buna. They constituted a deep beachhead, roughly triangular in shape, protecting Sanananda harbor. The apex of this triangle was three and a half miles inland on the Soputa-Sanananda road, the one good line of advance, while its base was anchored on strongpoints covering the coastal trail between Cape Killerton to the west and Tarakena to the east. Gona was a flank position to the northwest of the main stronghold and could be reached from Soputa by a trail west of the road.

Three groups of mutually supporting positions covered points where trails toward Cape Killerton branched off the main Soputa-Sanananda road. Each defensive position consisted of a single ring of bunkers connected by fire and communication trenches, constituting a perimeter. Many of these perimeters were flanked by swamps and all were well concealed in dense jungle. Within this fortified area were some three thousand survivors of the unsuccessful Japanese attack on Port Moresby, together with reinforcements which had arrived by sea. Among these troops were three battalions of the Japanese 41st Infantry. One battalion was at Gona, and the second and third battalions were near the junction of the Killerton Trail and Soputa-Sanananda road. Total enemy strength at Sanananda was between four and five thousand.  Australian units had conducted this operation but were too exhausted and too few to crack the enemy’s strong defensive position. The Aussies had pushed the Japs back across the Owen Stanley Mountains, but then the attack slowed down until after the fall of Buna.

By this time enough American troops had been moved in to press the attack with unremitting intensity until the final Jap units were subdued on 22 January 1943.  Gona fell on 9 December and the fight was being pressed for Sanananda and Buna. The 163d Infantry of the 41st Division began arriving at Popandetta and Dobodura by air from Port Moresby on 30 December, just three days after its arrival in New Guinea. This outfit became the first full American regiment to be flown into battle in the Pacific Theater. The 163d relieved the Australian 39th Infantry Battalion in its positions, this mission being completed between 2 and 4 January. In this one-day march to the forward bivouac area the troops experienced for the first time the discomfort of marching through the jungle while laden down with full equipment.

Operations at Buna were drawing to a close, permitting a shift of more Allied strength. The 127th Infantry, operating on the western flank of the Buna front, had established an outpost in Tarakena Village and was firmly entrenched in this spot by 8 January.  Meanwhile, Australian elements were moving from Buna to the Sanananda front via Ango Corner.

The Japanese position “P” (see Map 3) at the junction of the trail to Cape Killerton with the Soputa-Sanananda road had been holding up the Allied advance, but a roadblock maintained by Allied troops to the north forced the enemy to rely on the roundabout and difficult Killerton Trail for supplying his front. The situation along this road was extraordinary with Jap positions and Allied positions lined up in leapfrog fashion. The original Allied roadblock, about a half mile north of the Jap advance position, was organized for all-around defense and was called Perimeter Musket. Immediately north of this was a second Jap defensive position and just beyond this a second Allied roadblock, called Fisk in memory of Lieutenant Harold R. Fisk, the first officer of the 163d Infantry to fall in battle. Less than a quarter of a mile north was a third group of enemy defenses. Allied supply lines to the roadblocks ran through dense jungle east of the road and these routes had to be under constant patrol. At several points small defensive positions were maintained.

The Musket perimeter was on relatively dry, jungle-covered ground, some four feet above swamps on either side. Foxholes were dug for an entire squad and were arranged in square or circular patterns. Positions were about fifteen yards apart. There were two sections to each perimeter, the outer ring consisting of rifles and automatic weapons while the inner ring contained higher headquarters, the switchboard, 81mm mortars, ammunition dumps and aid station. Between these rings were small supply dumps, kitchens and lower headquarters. Slit trenches were everywhere and the area was often densely crowded, especially when troops were in transit to other points. Fortunately, during this time the Japs used no heavy mortars or artillery and the Allies had air superiority.

When the 163d took over the Musket perimeter from the Australians they found Jap tree snipers troublesome.  The Aussies, strangely enough, had not used tree snipers but the American troops took measures to counteract enemy snipers and before long the Jap snipers were thinned out.

Movement at night was strictly forbidden and after one fatal accident this rule was obeyed religiously. To avoid disclosing the position of weapons, front-line men used only hand grenades against suspicious noises.

Musket was the main Allied position while the Fisk perimeter consisted of two smaller perimeters, one on each side of the trail. The enemy employed neither artillery nor planes and the fear of casualties from tree bursts prevented effective use of his mortars. Consequently, it was a battle of small arms and grenades.

Jap defenses consisted of groups of bunkers arranged about five yards apart in circular or oval patterns on both sides of the road. Automatic weapons were arranged to fire from six to eight inches above the ground and along fire lanes so carefully cleared that little disturbance of the jungle was apparent. Around these perimeters were trip wires and vines attached to warning rattles. Enemy patrols and snipers were active on all sides.

During the seven-week stalemate which existed prior to the arrival of the 163d Infantry, American and Australian patrols discovered several Jap defensive positions along the Soputa-Sanananda road, but there was no clear understanding as to their nature or extent.

Patrols of the I63d between 4 and 7 January found that just north of Musket there were two enemy perimeters: Q on the west and R on the east of the road.  At noon on 8 January, following a fifteen-minute artillery, machine-gun and mortar preparation. Companies B and C of the 163d’s 1st Battalion attacked perimeters R and Q. Company C attacked south from the supply trail leading to Fisk via the Moore perimeter but was stopped in front of its objective by a swamp which was more than waist-deep as a result of heavy rain during the preceding night. Company B advanced north but had moved only twenty yards when it came under a heavy crossfire. About halfway between Musket and Q it dug in, at one point only twenty feet from Q. Failure to accomplish its mission was due to inadequate fire support, the unexpected depth of the swamp in front of Company C and the use of a frontal attack instead of a flank attack by Company B.  Company B’s frontal attack was made necessary by the location of the Australian artillery.

By 7 January the 2d Battalion of the 163d Infantry, less some of its heavy weapons, had been flown in and had moved to bivouac along the supply trail east of the road. Company E moved into Musket to relieve Company B, the latter’s slit trenches being waist-deep with water and the men in much need of sleep and hot food. Company B resumed its position in the lines on the morning of 9 January in time to enable Company E to participate in the fight for the enemy roadblock a half mile due west of Musket on the Killerton Trail. This roadblock, later called Perimeter Rankin after Captain (later Colonel) Walter R. Rankin of the 163d, had been used by the enemy to supply his advanced positions.

This move by the 2d Battalion was the first phase of a divisional plan of attack which was to employ both the I63d Infantry and the Australian 18th Brigade, now ready to advance. The plan called for the 163d to hold both possible lines of enemy retreat at Musket and Rankin while the 18th Brigade was breaking through the southernmost Jap defenses at P. The Aussies were then to drive up the Killerton Trail to the sea and swing eastward along the coast, thus enveloping the entire enemy defenses along the Soputa-Sanananda road. In the coastal area, troops of the 32d Division were readying themselves for a drive northward to make contact with the Australians. Thus the trap was set for a three-pronged attack against the Nips.

Patrols were active in the Musket area for the next few days and on 10 January discovered that Perimeter Q had been evacuated. It was occupied at once by Company A, 163d. This gave the 163d a solid front from Musket to Fisk on the west side of the road and left the Jap Perimeter R open to attack from all sides.  Meanwhile, the 3d Battalion of the I63d was arriving at Musket along the supply trail.

On 12 January the Australians attacked northward on both sides of the road against P while mortars of the 163d Regiment provided diversions in the form of fire directed against R and enemy defenses on the Killerton Trail south of Rankin. The Aussie attack was aided by four light tanks while Company K of the 163d operated south from Musket to cover the Australian right flank. By noon three of the four tanks were out of action and the Aussie attack was an obvious failure. Patrols were sent out from Musket during the afternoon to determine how far north the Jap position extended.

Shortly after daybreak on 14 January, a I63d patrol picked up a very sick Japanese soldier in the bushes along the road just south of Musket. This man was taken to the Australian 7th Division headquarters for interrogation and he revealed that orders had been received on the night of the 12th-13th for all able-bodied troops to evacuate Perimeter P, the southernmost Japanese position and the objective of the Australian attack two days before. The sick and wounded were left behind; this soldier had tried to follow but was so weakened by malaria and dysentery he could not continue the pace.

On the basis of this information, the 163d was to send all available units southward to block escape routes but not to attack P. Company K had remained just east of the road since the 12th and Company B was sent down from Musket on the west side. The two companies moved south astride the road, while on the Killerton Trail, Companies E and G also moved southward from Rankin, following a 100-round artillery and 200-round 81mm mortar barrage. Nearly a hundred Japs were killed during this phase of the operation.  Meanwhile, the Australian 18th Brigade renewed its attack and completely broke enemy resistance south of Musket. For more than a mile north of its junction with the Soputa-Sanananda road, the Killerton Trail now was open and the first phase of the divisional attack plan was completed.

At 0730 on 15 January, the platoon from Company A attacked from Q and managed to get inside Perimeter R from the north without being detected. The rest of the company pushed in to strengthen this toehold and Company C moved out from Fisk to press the attack from the east. Companies B, E, G and K were released from their southward movement by the 7th Division, and Company B was sent to the west side of R to complete the 163d’s stranglehold on the enemy.  Bunker after bunker fell to small groups of men using grenades, rifles and submachine guns, but the Japs clung tenaciously to the position until the following day when the last ones were wiped out. The second phase of the attack was to begin the following day.

Reserve elements of the Aussies mopped up south of Musket while the 18th Brigade moved up the Killerton Trail through the I63d’s 2d Battalion at Rankin to carry out the envelopment of Sanananda. After the Australians had passed through its lines the 2d Battalion moved north from Rankin about one and a half miles along the Killerton Trail to the Coconut Garden, where a branch trail was believed to connect with the Soputa-Sanananda road. On the heels of the Australian advance, the 2d Battalion was to follow the branch trail east to the road, taking the rear of the enemy positions north of Musket. The 3d Battalion was to operate from Musket and Fisk and was scheduled to complete the reduction of Perimeter U. The 1st Battalion was to attack west of the road enveloping Jap positions known to be located north of Fisk. Two batteries of Australian 25-pounders and two tanks were assigned to support the regiment and fifteen 81mm mortars were massed at Musket.

Meanwhile, elements of the 32d Division had expanded their bridgehead north of Konombi Creek in the push up the coast from Tarakena.

In preparation for the attack on the Soputa-Sanananda road. Companies A, B and C of the 163d, which had been reducing Perimeter R, were relieved late in the afternoon of the 15th by elements of Companies K and L. Harassing artillery fire was thrown at the enemy during the night of the 15th-l6th in the area north of Musket and a fifteen-minute barrage preceded the jump-off at 0900. Machine guns raked the trees and brush northwest of Fisk where Companies A, B and C were to advance around the right flank of the enemy positions and effect a junction with the 2d Battalion on the road. Soon after the jump-off. Company A on the right drew heavy machine-gun fire from the Japanese Perimeter S and was pinned down. Company C on the left, followed by Company B, met almost no opposition as it swung around to the road where a bivouac was established at Perimeter AD. Meanwhile, Company A had about twenty heat-exhaustion casualties and was ordered to withdraw and join Companies B and C in the new perimeter. This withdrawal was made under Japanese fire, in daylight, and made possible by fire from Company B.

The Aussies had passed through the 2d Battalion and had advanced up the Killerton Trail. The 2d Battalion had begun to move eastward from the Coconut Garden toward the road but after it had progressed some eight hundred yards the trail ended and the troops were forced to chop their way through the jungle on a compass course aimed at the 1st Battalion objective. Companies F and G came out on the road just south of A D and encountered a Company B patrol which guided them into the bivouac area. Part of Company H had been left behind near the Coconut Garden to guard a trail junction, but the rest of the company chopped its way eastward to the road at a point a mile north of A D where it made contact with patrols of the Australian 18th Brigade which had moved eastward from Cape Killerton along trails roughly parallel to the coast. The 2d Battalion encountered numerous small parties of Japs during this movement and killed more than a hundred.

To the north the attack was making progress. By evening on 16 January the Australians, carrying out a wide envelopment, had reached the sea. One battalion of Aussies faced a stubborn enemy group on the west coast of the bay while another battalion, advancing on the right flank, was on the road about a mile from the coast and in contact with the 163d Infantry’s 2d Battalion. The 32d Division’s phase of the attack still was bogged down.

An enemy plan for an orderly withdrawal along the road to the beach at Sanananda had been thwarted and his remaining forces were split and under heavy pressure, short of ammunition and starving. The first evidences of cannibalism had been discovered to support this latter point. During the night of 16-17 January, high-ranking Jap officers removed their wounded from barges in which they set off to seek safety for themselves.

Following reduction of the Jap strongpoint on 16 January, Colonel Doe sent the following message to his command:

Your Regimental Commander wishes to commend the officers and men of the 163d Infantry Combat Team for the fine planning, organization and individual excellence in execution of the successful operations of 16 January 1943 against the strongest point on the Japanese main defenses between Soputa and Sanananda Point, New Guinea.

This enemy strongpoint had held up the operations of the Allied Forces for eight weeks. The determination and aggressive spirit of the members of this command has resulted in a splendid victory and has brought credit to both ourselves and our organization.

As one of the 163d Infantry Combat Team, I am indeed proud to be one of you.

The exact nature of the remaining defenses on the Soputa-Sanananda road was unknown but it was believed that a considerable force was entrenched between Fisk and Perimeter AD. On 17 January Company B probed southward from A D until it was halted by fire from bunkers at Perimeter S. The next day Company C pushed forward east of Company B to envelop S but was stopped by fire from both flanks.  Then Companies A and K (attached to the 1st Battalion) extended the envelopment movement still further eastward but encountered another enemy perimeter at T. About noon the enemy, who was by now caught between the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 163d, showed signs of his nervousness by opening fire on Fisk without first being attacked, this being one of very few instances in which this happened. The feeling out of these enemy defenses continued for several days and finally on the 19th a platoon from Company I circled east and north from Fisk and accurately located the Jap perimeter at U. Company F had by now fought its way southward along the road to the north side of T. Reconnaissance in force had explored the ground between the two main positions of the 163d and the general enemy perimeters were known. Preparations were made for an attack on the 20th at which time the three positions would be overrun from south to north beginning with U. Just after noon on the day set for the attack the Australian 25-pounders fired 250 rounds on the target area while the mortars massed at Musket let go a barrage of 750 rounds, and machine guns of Company M at Fisk combed the trees and brush. As this preparation ended. Company I , which was poised for the assault, suffered the loss of Captain Duncan V. Dupree and First Sergeant James W . Boland through a short mortar round, while a sniper got one of the platoon leaders. This caused a delay in the attack and by the time it was launched the effect of the bombardment was lost; the enemy had slipped from his bunkers back into firing position and halted the attack.

Late the next morning, Companies A and K, following a closely timed concentration of mortar, artillery and machine-gun fire into Perimeter T, breached its defenses and fanned out once they were inside.  This softened resistance in front of Companies B and C, which were facing S, and all four companies were able to sweep south on the road in less than an hour, mopping up both S and T. The shell-fire killed many Japs and confined others to their bunkers until the infantrymen could get close enough to throw grenades into the firing slits and entrances or shoot down the survivors as they scampered from their holes. After this attack 525 enemy dead were counted, many showing evidence of starvation and disease. Outposts were placed along the road but most of the men were withdrawn to Perimeter A D for food and rest.

Just before daybreak on 22 January, 31 Japs were killed in front of Company K’s bivouac on the road.  They were remnants of five hundred reinforcements which had landed ten days earlier near Girua but they had arrived too late and were trying to escape westward when they stumbled onto Company K.

At 1047 that day Companies I and L attacked U from the south, moving out just as the last rounds of a mortar salvo left the guns. Resistance was weak and shortly after noon the attackers made contact with Company E, which had replaced Company F on the east side of the perimeter. The attackers had one man killed and one wounded and killed 69 Japs. Those who fled northward were picked off’ by patrols which mopped up through 23 January.

The enemy fought desperately even though it was apparent his end was near. Often he destroyed himself with pistol or grenade rather than face the humiliation of capture. Some of the few who were taken prisoner demanded to be shot in order that they might not be dishonored.

By evening of 22 January the Buna-Sanananda operations were finished. Judged by operations in other theaters this was a small show, but it removed the threat of an enemy land attack on Port Moresby. More than five thousand Japanese soldiers and marines had been killed, some 1,400 of them being accounted for by the 163d Infantry. The 163d captured more Jap equipment than had been taken by any other Allied force of similar size since the Pacific War began. The men who fought in the stinking swamps of Papua, constantly harassed by diseases and heat which accounted for far more casualties than did the enemy, had special grounds for pride in their victory. Many times the men of the 41st Division faced the ravages of starvation as food reserves sank dangerously low. They had fought the enemy, they had fought the jungle and they had learned their bitter lessons well.

In speaking of the comparison in casualties throughout this dreadful campaign. General MacArthur said:

These figures reverse the usual result of a ground offensive campaign, especially against prepared positions defended to the last. There was no reason to hurry the attack because the time element was of little importance. For that reason no attempt was made to rush the positions. The utmost care was taken for the conservation of our forces with the result that probably no campaign in history against a thoroughly prepared and trained Army produced such complete and decisive results with so low an expenditure of life and resources.

In his message to the 163d Infantry, General Eichelberger wrote:

As Commanding General of the Advance New Guinea Forces may I extend my heartiest congratulations and deep gratitude for the part each of you has played in inflicting upon the Japanese the first major land defeat they have suffered.  Realizing the difficulties and almost insurmountable obstacles which faced you in the accomplishment of your mission it was with a great deal of pride that I reported to the Commander in-Chief the important contribution of your Regiment to our momentous victory.

I deeply regret the loss of those who fell in combat and have the utmost sympathy for the families and friends in their bereavement. To those of you who remain I offer my best wishes for the continued success of your Regiment in battle. You and your unit have helped to make history in the jungles of New Guinea.

People on the home front followed the activities of the Montana Regiment of the 4lst Division with a great deal of pride. The story which broke on the front pages of the papers on the morning of 9 January 1943 was the first news that people back home had of the Division’s activities for more than a year.  The State Legislature in session at Helena, Montana, cabled the 163d Regiment, composed in part of rugged Indians from that Rocky Mountain state, the following message:

With vibrant admiration for your magnificent victory over the Japanese on the Papuan Peninsula of New Guinea and elsewhere, with prayers for the wounded and with undying resolve to carry on the high purpose of our noble dead, the hearts of the people of Montana are with you, beating as one every hour of the day.

 

Chapter 5: The Mopping-up Phase

In the last week of January the 186th Infantry Regiment, under command of Colonel John T. Murray, was flown over the Owen Stanley Mountains to relieve elements of the 32d Division at Buna and Gona and to mop up the remnants of the enemy.  The 1st Battalion relieved the 128th Infantry of the 32d, taking over from Cape Sudest north to include Cape Endaiadere. The 2d Battalion relieved the 127th Regiment, taking over the defense of Cape Giropa, Buna and Buna Mission, and patrolled to Tarakena Point. The 3d Battalion was regimental reserve and went into bivouac at Sememi.

The defeat of the Japs at Buna, Gona and Sanananda wound up the Papuan phase of the fight but was only the beginning of a long and more tedious campaign.

On 1 February, Company G of the l63d Regiment, under Captain Benson, moved approximately twenty-two miles northwest of Gona to the mouth of the Kumusi River. A reinforced platoon from the 186th Regiment was attached to Company G at Sebari. The leader of this platoon reported a Jap position about six hundred yards north. While the remainder of the unit ate, a patrol set out for more definite information about this position.

Shortly after noon the patrol returned with a report that no enemy had been sighted and the company then moved to the south bank of the Kurerda River. A small raft was constructed on which three men. Sergeant Ronald M. Bretzke, Private Ramsey and Warrant Officer Dixon, crossed the river. Shortly after these men left a small Jap assault boat was brought up from the rear and loaded in preparation for the remainder of the patrol to cross.

Preparations for crossing had just been completed when Sergeant Bretzke discovered a group of sleeping Japs. He ran to the river’s edge to give warning, but the Japs, who had been aroused by this time, opened fire, killing Bretzke and wounding two men on the opposite side of the river. Enemy mortars went into action and a third man on the south side of the river was wounded.

One platoon of Company G was in defilade along the south bank of the river. It returned fire and finally the enemy fire ceased. Meanwhile, Ramsey and Dixon had taken cover behind a log on the sand spit between the ocean and the river. The tide was coming in and they were being fired upon. They were forced to swim out to sea and after going several hundred yards south they made the shore safely.

The company dug in along the south bank of the Kurerda River while the natives were returned to Sebari. The company commander also returned to Sebari to radio a report to regimental headquarters. The radio failed so the message was sent to Gona by a surf boat equipped with an outboard motor. Mortars and additional ammunition were requested. Colonel Doe and Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Dawley, Executive Officer of the l63d Infantry, arrived to appraise the situation and correct supply and communication problems.

On the morning of 3 February, 47 men from Company M arrived with four mortars and immediately placed fire on the opposite bank of the river. Under cover of this barrage the 1st Platoon of Company G under a Sergeant Jones crossed the river and advanced about four hundred yards before it was pinned down.  The river was parallel to the beach for about a hundred yards. The strip of land between the river and the beach was about one hundred and fifty yards wide and about seventy-five yards of it was heavily wooded.  The Japs were dug in throughout this jungle area.

The 3d Platoon of Company G crossed the river but was unable to advance; it was followed by the 2d Platoon which also came under enemy mortar fire. The 1st Platoon fell back and called for another mortar barrage on the enemy, but when it renewed the attack it again was pinned down. The 1st Platoon withdrew and established a perimeter north of the river and about fifty yards from the enemy position.

During the morning of 4 February another hammering by mortars was meted out to the Japs but the attempt to take the position again failed. A platoon from Company L came in as replacements and the next morning this unit and the platoon from the 186th Infantry moved over an inland route to Fuffarda and Kumbado where they left two squads as rear guard.  The remainder of the two units pushed on to the seacoast to attack the Japs from the rear and drive them into Company G.

The patrol worked its way south along the coast but was late in reaching its objective. After making contact with the Japs it withdrew to a perimeter off the coastline and the Japs withdrew along the coast.

On the morning of 6 February Company G advanced north to make contact with the platoon from the 186th, these two units meeting in mid-morning. The 186th platoon turned around and went back up the coast, spending that night in Bakumbari Village, while Company G bivouacked north of the Kambela River mouth.

The company started north the next morning with the 186th platoon as advance party. About 1600 they reached another river and used Higgins boats in an attempt to land on the beach above the river, but heavy Jap machine-gun fire made this impossible.

The next morning mortars and Australian 25-pounders placed fire on the enemy positions, enabling the platoon from the 186th Regiment to land without opposition. When it had cleared the area of enemy resistance it moved up the coast to the next river.  When the rest of the force arrived at the river another barrage was laid down but the Higgins boats were not available. By the time two Jap assault boats were salvaged, darkness was falling and no crossing was attempted.

The Higgins boats arrived on the 9th but they got stuck on the beach and the two Jap boats had to be used. After making the crossing Company G pushed to the next river or inlet. No boats were available and the water here was too deep to allow the men to ford the inlet. The men rebuilt a native dugout canoe and used it to transport equipment and clothing while they resorted to swimming. The crossing was completed shortly before midnight and the company spent the night on the north shore.

On the 10th, Company G pushed on to the Kumusi River and established a perimeter there. Patrolling activity continued until the I4th when Company L came in to relieve Company G and carried on the mopping-up activities.

On 8 February the 162d Infantry, which had been rounding out its training in Australia, left for New Guinea, sailing across the Coral Sea as if it were on an excursion lake cruise. This unit travelled mostly on Dutch vessels.

The convoy arrived at the Division staging area at Port Moresby, which by now was extremely active. Both American and Australian forces had installations there, scattered as much as seventeen miles from town.  Moresby had finally undergone its one hundredth bombing and the raids had long ceased to be more than a nuisance. The town bore battle scars but it was much better off than the men had been led to believe. The second night the 162d was in Moresby, enemy planes roared overhead and the men experienced an earnest blackout but no bombs fell. Water was scarce and a downpour of rain always was welcome because it brought an impromptu shower bath and the men readily took advantage of each rain.

The 162d remained at Moresby only three days and then sailed around the lower end of the island and on to the area which was to be home for the next several months. On 27 February the unit reached Milne Bay and experienced a small air raid, its first enemy fire.  Here the men got an idea of life in the combat area as compared with their garrison life. During a blackout in Australia they were accustomed to driving blacked-out vehicles with road spacing of one hundred and fifty yards. When they entered the combat zone they learned that vehicles were driven bumper to bumper with lights blazing until the last minute before the raid and that the lights went on immediately after the raiders left.

Oro Bay, the point of debarkation, was reached early in March. As these greenhorns stepped on land they were assailed with rumors and outlandish tales circulated by the members of the Division who had preceded them into the area. An example of these tall tales was the story that there were Japs all around in small groups and that resistance was so scarce that platoon leaders would flip a coin to decide who was to go and clean out a pocket of a mere two hundred or so Japs.  The 2d Battalion of the 162d marched from Oro Bay to Gona where it took up positions in beach defense and built fortifications along a three-mile stretch from Basabua on the south to a point several hundred yards north of Gona Inlet. Gradually units of the 162d Infantry relieved the l63d Regiment which then went into Division reserve.

As this newly arrived regiment took over the various areas it gained an idea as to the intensity of the fight which had taken place. Buna, Gona and Sanananda were brown against a green background. Trees were whacked off and splintered by artillery shells and bombs. Jap bodies and equipment littered the area. As time passed all the battlefields took on this same haunting, beaten, flattened appearance.

By this time the entire Division, less the artillery and small detachments of the component units, was concentrated in New Guinea. Rations were a problem.  Troops were living on Australian canned “bully beef” and “dog biscuits,” two-inch squares of indestructible army biscuit. The story was circulated that a batch of these delectable appetizers was left in the rain experimentally for three days and at the end of that time they were just as hard as ever.

Around 15 January C rations began arriving.  Although this type ration is not considered ideal as a constant diet, it was considered a delicacy by this time.  During the campaign phase of this period the average loss of weight per man (supposedly trained, hardened fighters) in this area was estimated by medical officers to be twenty-six pounds. Not all of this loss could be attributed to an inadequate diet, but a large part of it was.

Several times bad flying weather halted the air transport of food and stockpiles went dangerously low. At

one time service was interrupted for eight days. It was nearly three months before the men got any fresh meat, and then the only meat that did arrive was bully beef, which was only slightly better than the canned variety.  One day some bread was flown in and even though it was two days old it was gobbled up as readily as if it had just come out of the oven.

General Rilea, who had been Assistant Division Commander, was relieved of his duties on 22 February upon urgent call from General MacArthur’s headquarters.  He was put in command of the United States Army’s newly established base port at Sydney. His departure broke a long association with the Division.

On 14 March Jens A. Doe received word of his promotion to brigadier general. When he left command of his 163d Infantry Regiment to accept the post of Assistant Division Commander he wrote: “ It is not easy to leave. In the past eight months our training was brought to a peak which was culminated in the Battle of Sanananda. The Regiment met and overcame a treacherous and ruthless foe in carefully organized positions of his own choosing. The units of the Regiment displayed those qualities of initiative, daring, courage and intelligent teamwork which have characterized our best American troops in past wars.

“The immediate cause of my promotion was the striking success of the Regiment. The plans played a part; it was the execution of the plans that was important and brought victory. It is not easy to leave an organization and comrades in arms after such associations.  In farewell, I wish the I63d continued success in winning the war, and each one of you good fortune. May everything come your way until the end.”

Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Francis Mason assumed command of the l63d Infantry upon General Doe’s promotion.

The job now was not one of training but one of preparing and re-equiping the unit for further encounters

with the Sons of Heaven. This was another one of those periods of waiting, the waiting which comes when a unit is building stockpiles of supplies for future moves.

Roads at first were all but impassable. It took an hour and a half by jeep to get from Soputa to Division Headquarters at Dobodura. From Division Headquarters it was a four-hour struggle to the base port at Oro Bay, if anything on wheels could get through. There was no bottom to the mud and a lot of bulldozers were required to get a convoy over that road. Everything received for the first three months had to be brought in from the bay port by jeep over an almost impassable road, or in small ships to one or two beach landing points.

The road-building program was the top project and the stretch between Dobodura and Oro Bay came first.  The 116th Engineers, aided by several hundred chanting natives and one company of the 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion, toiled on this operation. When it was completed the unit had a fine road.

Natives were put to work constructing a camp site.  Huts, consisting of a pole-frame and palm-leaf roof, were built and as time passed these acquired some kind of wooden floors and a waist-high railing.

One night a group of men living only a few hundred feet from the Sambogo River were awakened by a commotion and a gentle lapping against the bottom of their cots. Upon further investigation they found that the river had risen six to eight feet very rapidly due to rain in the hills and had flooded the area.

Until the early part of May life was fairly calm and serene for the Sunsetters. There were frequent air raids, which usually did little damage, and as each day passed Jap planes became more and more scarce. One day in March, twenty-eight bombers came over in perfect formation.  Many thought they were American but little black puffs began springing up throughout the area indicating that the Japs had completed one of their few successful sneak raids. Jap bombers sometimes were very inaccurate, dropping their loads of death and destruction six miles from what should have been their target. Most of the Division units had excellent jungle cover but a raid still called for a blackout, which usually interrupted a good poker game. Many times men would desert their shelters and watch the raid much as one watches an aerial circus performance. Jap dive bombers were much more effective and accounted for some Allied shipping. However, the ever improving ground gunners soon made dive bombing a poor paying adventure.

Radio Tokyo spent many hours throwing propaganda at the Sunset troops, but few soldiers ever listened.  During campaigns no one listened to the radio and during rest-up periods Armed Forces Radio service stations came in clearer. One of the better known Japanese radio shows was Tokyo Rose. She attempted to be satiric in her patter but lacked the cleverness. She did have quite a collection of recordings by the bands of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, but this music could be heard on any station which it was possible to pick up. Another Japanese radio show which became widely known was the Zero Hour, another program featuring recorded music. Usually the music was on the sentimental side so that fear and homesickness could be spread among the Allied troops.  Typical of the sign-off comments was: “Well, if the little man with the long bayonet hasn’t finished you off by this time tomorrow, tune in again.”

Tokyo Rose at times had information that was amazingly accurate but many times, to the amusement of her listeners, she predicted and confirmed extermination of the 4lst Division at Oro Bay.

The Division supply situation was nearly solved by mid-April and roads had been greatly improved. Oro Bay now was within easy reach, being only a twenty minute trip.

Sunday was a day of dancing for the native villagers and a large crowd of soldiers always was on hand to watch the village virgins do their endless version of a Paul Jones. The dance was done to a chant and the girls had their hair streaked with ochre while their faces were sometimes striped with yellow. The men would join in the chanting and noise-making and at the height of the ceremony one native, well smeared with paint, wearing a false face and leaves, leaped into the ring, brandishing a symbolic spear.

The natives smoked a violent brand of black twist tobacco. They rolled it in newspaper about six inches long, with tobacco only in the outside end. Most of the native men chewed betel nut, which gave them a cheap drunk and stained their teeth brown.

In April, almost one year after its arrival in Australia, the 4lst Division Artillery, less the l67th FA Battalion, started the trek from Australia to New Guinea. The group sailed from Gladstone to Oro Bay via Milne Bay.  At Milne the convoy was subjected to an attack by one hundred Jap bombers and the troops were put ashore post haste. Two of the ships were sunk by Jap dive bombers and the supplies of the 205th FA Battalion went down on one of the ships. Loss of its supplies kept the 205th at Milne longer and it was not until 24 April that this battalion reached Oro Bay. The 218th FA Battalion, Division Artillery Headquarters and Headquarters Battery had moved into the defensive installations at the Gona sector, following a brief stay at Port Moresby.

This group found Moresby a welcome surprise. The men had heard about New Guinea with its jungles, rain forests, mud and malarial swamps but here they found a bustling, busy little town, not too badly damaged.  The bivouac area was only a few miles from town and had been hewed out of the hillside. For entertainment the town offered a couple of theaters and a Red Cross Club. But there was the rain — rain that only New Guinea could offer — sweeping downpours that kept the men almost constantly soaked.

One incident of the short Moresby stay which will long live in the memories of these artillerymen is the long pavement of laundry soap that was laid that first morning as the trucks drove from the dock to the camp site. Division Headquarters had some PX supplies coming up with this echelon, and among these items were crates of soap. The crates were loaded on trucks and in the transition from the ship’s hold to the trucks the crates were broken open and the soap was strewn all along the route to the camp. The next day each unit had jeeps out scavenging bars of soap which had fallen from the trucks. Soap of any kind was as precious as ingots of gold.

At about this time the I46th Field Artillery Battalion was assigned to the prosaic job of a labor battalion at Milne Bay. The I67th Field Artillery Battalion had been left in Townsville where it had been training as a pack-artillery outfit.

From Moresby the remainder of the artillery proceeded to teeming, battle-scarred Oro Bay. Here they

witnessed the mute testimony of the Japanese bombings.  Three sunken Allied ships nearly filled the tiny harbor, their sides and decks awash, their spars and masts sticking upward in a kind of silent communion.

The units were assigned overnight camp areas near the beach and the orgy of unloading began. The day of landing was hot and officers and men sweated and strained at the task of unloading and separating supplies.  Shifts were scheduled to work throughout the night and Oro-based portable kitchens kept C rations and hot coffee on hand for the laborers.

At 2000 there was a red alert. All vehicles travelling between the docks and supply points were halted. Sentries posted by the base command on the jutting bare hills that rimmed the bay, called down to the toiling men below, ordering all fires and lights to be extinguished.  (These were the days before the conventional three red flares were used to herald an attack.) Men huddled together in groups, speculating and nurturing the first of those fears that only bombed peoples of the earth can ever truly know. Nerves became taut as the hours rolled slowly by but the men peered into the darkness and listened. At about 2315 the “all clear” sounded. Lights came on and the quiet which had prevailed throughout the alert now was shattered by reborn voices. Work was resumed and the ships in the harbor, which had sought the open sea, opened their holds to allow men to finish the unloading. When morning came the men trekked into the mess, dirty, unshaven and tired.

About mid-morning the air raid alert sounded again. Almost before the echo had died away, bombs from an enemy force of fifty-nine planes were falling on Oro Bay. The docks and tightly packed ships were the immediate targets. On the docks, caught in the initial terror of the attack, were men who only a moment before had been busy at the task of moving equipment from docks to the shore. The first bombs hit behind the beach road, igniting gasoline dumps and outer installations. Even in the initial panic men, acting automatically, reached the slit trenches that rimmed the bay.  But once they were safely in their holes they could not stay too far under the earth, because the sight of American planes rising to give chase, the dogfights in the sky overhead, the excitement of the whole tragic business was too great. The fiercely burning gas dumps filled the blue heavens with fat, rolling clouds of black smoke. There had been casualties, but no dead.

 Signs began appearing everywhere. These added a light touch to things, bringing an occasional much needed laugh or smile and easing the strain for some man for the moment. Typical of the signs was that erected by a makeshift, haywire lumber concern, GI operated. On an old mounted, circular saw was painted “Thick and Thin Lumber Co. Our Best Is None Too Good.” Over the Division Quartermaster Office, commanded by Colonel Frederick C. Roecker, was “Dobodura Trading Co., F. C. Roecker, Prop. Hay—Grain—Oats—Boats.” Then there was the inevitable signpost which gave the direction and mileage to such points as San Francisco; Tokyo; St. Louis; Sing Sing; Rigby, Idaho; Croneyville; and Sally, Irene and Mary.

While there was a lull in the fight the men worked hard to add a bit of comfort to their quarters. They took machetes and built everything with practically nothing. They dug wells and made furniture without nails or lumber. A well placed grenade off the beach usually was good for a mess of fresh fish.

The supply situation was well in hand and the Japs at Salamaua had been sounded out. Bigger things were hatching and the question of who was going to strike where, was the important topic of the day.