Battery B 218 Field Artillery Observer at Salamaua

by Gorrell Norman

 After the 41st moved to Rockhampton about 19 June 1942, I trained with 218 Field Artillery's 75, which were much like the Japs' mountain guns. Although they were made to break down for packing on mules, we trained with them on jeeps. But on the voyage to New Guinea, all the jeeps would be sunk, except for one to pull each gun. We were lucky to have with us just one jeep to pull each gun - not enough jeeps for pack use.

By 26 June, I was in position to embark with landing barges that contained the guns and Colonel MacKechnie's 1st Battalion 162 Infantry for the beachhead on Nassau Bay.

That wave-battered landing on the night of 29-30 June 1943 was one that I and most of 1st Battalion 162's combat team would never forget. Seasick and already soaked by the heavy Guinea rain, I had to rush into high waves. I floundered into water up to my armpits until I dragged myself up the beach with pack and tommie-gun. I lay shivering on the sands until daybreak. The waves prevented our guns from landing at all; they would not beach until 3 July, three days after that shipwreck landing.

Next morning, I was an observer right at the front when Captain George's A Company strode out to fight the Japs north of the beachhead. The first Jap fire hit an A Company Sergeant who was stringing combat wire about 20 feet from me. The Sergeant screamed horribly; (he was probably Manley, shot through the wrist that morning).

Fire burst out all around us - Jap fire and answering Yank fire. As a field observer lacking any guns to direct, I knew well what to do. Having no Infantry training, I hit the sand and stayed in it. Still I took a dent in my helmet from a fragment and a hole through the poncho where it was tucked under.

            My unhappiest experience in the fight came when I thought that I was about to kill a Jap. I was prone with my tommie-gun over a log to give A Company flank security. And at that time, everybody was firing at everything that moved. I saw the brush quiver before me and fingered the trigger ready to fire. Out came the face of an Amphibious Engineer - just in time to keep from being hit by one of my .45 slugs.

For the rest of July after A Company's fight, Nippo planes would bomb and strafe us. When the planes raided, we cowered from the planes into craters already blasted on the beach. During one air-strike, a lineman out of the open beach was huddling beside a log. A bomb exploded on the other side of the log and covered him with earth. He came up shouting and cursing, but unhurt.

After digging in for the night, I lay under tapping rain on my poncho that bounced off to fill my foxhole with water. At least between Jap bursts of fire, I preferred to sleep in my poncho above ground.

            All night, I heard continuous firing. Yet next morning, nearby men said that they had not fired a shot. But on our front, men found buckets of blank shells that the men had fired from during the night.

On 4 July, the third day of our beachhead, B 218 Field Artillery's .75 cannon finally landed, and evidently moved up towards Bitoi River at once. I was again on an observation party for our guns. After a few days, the observation post sat up on top of a hill. We were out of contact with our guns but for a section of wire that the Japs had left behind.

Once our Lieutenant got lost on patrol. The only knowledgeable Field Artillery observer left, I directed fire until his Captain arrived to take over this duty.

Because of malaria, I was evacuated to a field hospital, but rejoined B 218 on their return to Rockhampton. I had spent six months in New Guinea. From Rockhampton, I was sent to Fox Farm for further treatment of my recurring malaria. After much time experimenting with atabrine, I returned to B Battery for more training for the coming New Guinea Campaign.