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Muddy soldiers, Rendova Island
Mud splattered US soldiers on Rendova Island (New Georgia), in the aftermath of one of the many Japanese bombing raids that hit the island.
Sergeant Major Walter Valentine joined the Marine Corps in 1942. After completing his training in Camp Lejune, he was assigned to the 3 rd Marine Division, and sent to fight as a scout sniper. He took part in the 1943 assault on Bougainville, then headed to Guadalcanal for additional combat training, before participating in the amphibious landing that recaptured Guam in 1944. The following year, Valentine fought in Iwo Jima, where he earned a Purple Heart.
Iwo Jima left another mark on Valentine: as he recalled decades later, describing one of those dramatic moments of that battle, &ldquoI will never forget the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima&ldquo. After a 5 year break from fighting, Valentine next saw combat in Korea, where he became one of the &ldquoChosin Few&rdquo, in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. His next taste of combat would come a decade later, in Vietnam.
Situated to the northeast of Australia in the South Pacific, New Georgia is part of the Solomon Island chain. Soft sandy beaches lead to lush jungles growing out of coral rock a veritable island paradise. In 1943, this paradise had been turned into a military stronghold by the forces of the Empire of Japan. The ensuing U.S. offensive to take the Solomon Islands gave us the more well-known battles of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and New Guinea. These victories ensured that the Japanese would no longer threaten the allied nations of Australia and New Zealand. They also opened the way for General Douglas MacArthur to make good on his promise to return to the Philippines in 1945. From the Philippines, the Allied forces would be knocking at the door of the Japanese home islands.
Directly in the middle of the Solomon Islands is the New Georgia cluster, made vitally important by its airfield on Munda Point. In the war for the South Pacific, air superiority was key. Landing troops on hostile beaches was made next to impossible when those troops were under constant attack from Japanese fighter-bombers. Therefore, each new offensive needed to be covered by U.S. air power to rid the skies of enemy planes. U.S. air superiority also meant that the Japanese would not be able reinforce, resupply, or withdraw from their positions on the Solomon Islands without suffering heavy losses at sea.
These operations were hampered significantly by the lack of available resources in manpower and equipment. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had decided that the defeat of Germany was the greatest priority for the Allies, and that they would concentrate the majority of their forces in Europe while holding a strategically defensive but operationally offensive posture in the Pacific (offensives with the limited aims of protecting Allied nations and degrading Japan’s offensive capabilities). The U.S. and Allied forces in the Pacific Theater would have to make do with what they had.
Japanese World War II Diary Reveals Life Under US Naval Bombardment.
“What follows are excerpts from the diary of Probational Officer Toshihiro Oura, who was posted near the Munda Point airfield on the southwest tip of New Georgia. His journal was translated in 1943 by Dye Ogata and Frank Sanwo, nisei interpreters with the intelligence section of the U.S. Army’s 37th Infantry Division. Oura was a platoon leader in the Imperial Japanese Army’s 15th Antiaircraft Field Defense Unit, which was commanded by Colonel Shunichi Shiroto. It was equipped with 25mm and 40mm antiaircraft and antitank automatic cannons.
In June 1943, about five months after America’s final victory at Guadalcanal, U.S. forces continued their advance through the Solomon Islands by commencing operations against Japanese-held New Georgia. A major goal of the campaign was the capture of the airfield at Munda Point. On June 30, American troops landed on Rendova Island, about eight miles southeast of Munda. Several days later, two regiments of the 43rd Infantry Division began landing at Zanana, on New Georgia, about eight miles east of Munda. (U.S. forces had already come ashore at the southeast tip of the island and would soon land on its northern shore.) American commanders quickly deployed artillery on Rendova and the nearby channel islands with which to support their westward drive to capture Munda Point.
July 9: The artillery barrage started at 2 a.m. There were great numbers of tracer shells, which made it like day. However, the tracer shells went overhead and did not hit within the positions. At 5, the firing ceased.
During this shelling, 2nd Lt. Imura (a graduate of Naseda University), who was attached to the searchlight battalion, and one other soldier were killed by a direct hit. Many officers of my immediate acquaintance were dying right alongside. When the shelling ceased, three Zero planes came over to reconnoiter and then returned. At 7:30 a.m., about 50 Grummans [TBFs] came over. Since our positions could be clearly seen from Rendova, we could not fire. I was really fed up when the order came from the Field Defense HQ to fire.
Our CO began to feel sympathy toward the men. He couldn’t figure out any way to fire that wasn’t to our disadvantage. After he laughingly said, “I would like to die now after seeing the action of our troops,” he continued by saying that he would leave all the decisions up to the platoon leaders. He showed a sense of sympathy and never came out with an order to fire.
If our operations would only start, I would fire again and again, even though our positions would be exposed and we in turn would be fired upon. As it is now, we are being fired upon, and we have not returned fire. Enemy planes are constantly overhead, so I can’t even take a step outside of our shelters. If we were to fire now, they would concentrate their fire on us, and our emplacements would be leveled. And then all of us would be annihilated together. We shall fight. Right now, living is more important. In the last stages of this battle, if we can stop the tanks from coming in from the south, then we can die laughing.
July 10: My, the shelling is fierce, but aside from a little scare, the results have been nil. But still, if [a shell] were to hit our shelter, we’re goners. All of the personnel, wearing steel helmets within the shelters, waited quietly for action. The heat in the shelter was like that of a cellar, and the unpleasant odor drifted about. It is suicidal to go to the latrine. I put on my helmet, and after I had made complete preparations, I took off for the bomb crater, which was in front of me. While I was defecating, six or seven shells fell, so I took off and came back.
At 3:30 p.m., the shelling ceased. The artillery’s accuracy has become a real thing. We never can tell when we are to die. Oh, God! I would like to die after seeing the action of our invincible imperial forces. After looking at a dud, I can see that the enemy’s artillery is 150mm [155mm, actually].
July 11: The 13th Infantry Regiment, which was scheduled to land last night, did so at Bairoko Harbor. We are about to take the initiative. At 7:40 a.m. 45 carrier-based Grummans appeared. Aside from a close hit, all of the rest of the bombs were dropped elsewhere. During the afternoon for about 21⁄2 hours, concentrated fire rained on us. The enemy has fired at least 2,000 rounds today. Some hit within five meters of my shelter. At this rate, day after tomorrow, I’ll be a goner. The enemy is firing about 20 rounds at a time. Regardless of what shelter I may be in, at the present rate, it will be of no avail. One of our precious guns was lost in today’s bombing.
July 12: Last evening, I was watching the shelling and some fell within three meters of the positions. It is really a mystery why there have not been any personnel losses up until now. Right now, I am lying on my side, facing Rendova, with the acting operator, 1st Class Pvt. Tomioka, but today or sometime tomorrow I guess we’ll be hit. If our last gun were to be destroyed, then our company would become a labor outfit.
Since our mission is that of a tank destroyer unit, we couldn’t very well stay hidden. We went out to take a peep to the south several times. Fortunately, there were no tanks. When the shelling ceased, we were on the verge of collapse from fatigue and lack of sleep.
At 7 a.m. about 40 Douglas [SBD] bombers effected a general bombing. After about 8:50, we had a concentration of fire on our positions. The 4th Squad’s gun was knocked out. One [shell] burst south and to one side of our shelter, and this made several marks on the aiming apparatus and the barrel. The ammunition was set afire. Demolition shells must be good only for things above ground level because, queer as it may seem, the personnel are still intact. This winds up things for this 3rd Platoon leader with the loss of three guns. Losing the guns puts a sense of guilt on me, yet the personnel are intact. There is nothing for us to do but to feel fortunate in the midst of all the bad luck. From now on, we are a labor company.
July 13: All the personnel assembled where the Field Defense HQ was located, in the midst of shelling, after having come through the dark jungle and over muddy paths. We dug dugouts in the empty area. After getting wet from the evening dew, we lay down. The distance we traveled really was hard going, so much that it hardly can be expressed.
Sergeant Takagi died last night in the naval shelling. The dead already amounted to 6 to 7 men. Lance Corporal Ito and four men, who were handling rations, are missing.
I must say that there is close cooperation between [the enemy’s] air, land, and naval forces. Our forces have not carried out a large-scale bombing they haven’t shelled Rendova with a single battleship, nor have they given the army any heavy artillery pieces.
What do you call this? How could such action be called modern war? I keenly feel the poor liaison of the Japanese forces and the weakness of our military strength. My! This is really disheartening. We haven’t been fighting, merely dying in the midst of bombs and shelling.
However, the Japanese forces couldn’t let the enemy have his own way we must look forward with expectations that something will be done. Probational Officer Oura [the author] has been ordered to be the rifle platoon leader. Probational Officer Takagi has been ordered to be the CO of the 41st Battalion. We are to provide defense and security against the enemy, who is penetrating into the area of North Munda. The organization is now 27 men and a company of three squads. We are to make it impossible for an advance and attack to be made from any direction.
July 14: Several enemy planes came over early this morning and circled at a low altitude to our rear. After every reconnoitering, shelling would follow. We are doing our best camouflaging right now. Evidently we haven’t been exposed, because shells are landing 300 meters to our left and right. The sick, with 2nd Lt. Hattori, are to return from the 41st Battalion sometime today. I am supposed to be in charge of them, and they are to be the 2nd Platoon. I am also to be in command of the rifle platoon.
We rested at battalion headquarters for a little while when the order came for us to wait at the former positions, so we returned. Shells were falling, and there were patients being carried in on stretchers while fighters hovered over us in plain daylight. It was so bad, I can’t go on talking about it.
At 11 a.m., the order came for Probational Officer Oura and six men to go to the east lookout post, another new position for the Field Defense HQ 2nd Lt. Imura was killed and a total of four wounded today. I immediately departed in the rain, and I stumbled time and time again while going through the jungle. On my way, I stopped at Field Defense HQ and received orders. I took command of 12 men, including the medical unit. As usual, shelling was concentrated on the pom-pom gun positions. The sounds of the explosions and the concussions were terrific. I lay down in the canvas shelter unconcerned.
July 15: I picked Lance Cpl. Sugiyama, Wakita, Shimura, Muramatsu, and Ota, the six best men. Tomorrow, Corporal Takahashi and his five men will come and then we will have a strength of 12 men. We are going to start installing a 10cm gun. This east lookout post is the eye of all the forces in Munda.
I set up binoculars and observed the enemy positions. The U.S. flag could be seen fluttering on PT-boats. A destroyer, which had been camouflaged, was at anchor. You could call [the scene] a war movie or perhaps a “Newsweek” movie [a Japanese equivalent of Movietone or Paramount newsreels]. At any rate, it is interesting to an outsider. The moving boats and bursting shells looked as if you could almost grab them.
This morning’s shelling was a shelling of all shellings. By 7 they had already fired 1,000 rounds into the vicinity of the Kawai Detachment’s positions. Lance Corporal Sugiyama was struck. I believe it will take him about a month and a half to recover.
Shells are hitting close by right now, so we can’t go outside. The offending odor of perspiration in the dugout is unbearable. The place where we stand guard has already become the death ground of two men. No one back home would ever think that we are living in a crater. I am taking the place of 2nd Lt. Imura. It is really smelly. They said that they hadn’t found the two legs of the men yet. Four-engine Consolidated bombers [B-24s] fly around at low altitude. I can see plainly through my binoculars two men looking this way from the window to the rear of the insignia.
July 17: I had to lie down inside the narrow dugout because close hits were bursting in great numbers. Present strength is the CO and 13 men.
From 3 p.m., the 41st Battalion fired their AA guns against artillery positions at Roviana for about one hour. One shell made a direct hit but only after many unsuccessful efforts.
July 18: It rained heavily last night. The sound of explosions is terrific. Anticipating a landing by the enemy between tonight and dawn, we guarded more closely. I held the binoculars from 3 to 6:30 a.m., when it was pretty certain that it was safe. I could not sleep on account of the rain and telephone calls that came from Field Defense HQ and the 41st Battalion, and my fatigue mounted. I inquired about a shell that burst nearby this morning.
I hear the enemy is increasingly concentrating his troops on Guadalcanal for a new offensive. However, we must not complain because our navy and our air force might be striking at Guadalcanal. If we can only crush Guadalcanal, the enemy at Rendova will be automatically annihilated.
July 19: Last night’s shelling was terrific. This concentration of fire is just over our dugout. Since it has only one entrance, the air is stuffy, and the sounds of the explosions cause ringing in our ears. It is really more than I can bear. The men were scared, and they all ran into my dugout. I had to take them out mercilessly and assign them to other dugouts. There were nine men in the dugout, and if it were to receive a direct hit, the entire personnel would be buried alive.”
By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Navy Times Daily News Roundup./>U.S. troops unloading ammunition during landing operations at Rendova Island, 30 June 1943. (National Archives)
June 29: I wonder if they will come today. Last night it drizzled and there was a breeze, making me feel rather uncomfortable. When I awoke at 4 this morning, rain clouds filled the sky but there was still a breeze. The swell of the sea was higher than usual. However, the clouds seem to be breaking.
I have become used to combat, and I have no fear. In yesterday’s raid our air force suffered no losses, while nine enemy planes were confirmed as having been shot down and three others doubtful. Battle gains are positively in favor of our victory, and our belief in our invincibility is at last high.
Some doughnuts were brought to the officers’ room from the Field Defense HQ, which were made by the Nanto Detachment. They were awfully small ones, but I think each one of us had 20 or so. Whether they were actually tasty or not didn’t make much difference because of our craving for sweets.
Each one was a treasure in itself. While eating the doughnuts, I lay down in the sand, and I pulled out the handbook my father had bought for me and which was now all in pieces from a bomb fragment. As I looked at the map of my homeland, which was dear to me, I thought I would like to go to a hot spring with my parents when I get home.
I thought of going there, and here. This map of the homeland, when back home, would be of no use other than for traveling. Right now, it has spiritual meaning rather than a material value: a meaning that is 10 times its value by making me happy and by consoling me.
June 30: At last, the final decisive battle has come.
I will relate briefly the progress since last night. Last night, at 7:10 Kolombangara received naval gunfire. At 8, a blue signal flare from Rendova went up. I saw four enemy warships. At 4:10 this morning rain clouds hovered over us. At Rendova four cruisers, two destroyers, two transports, and countless boats appeared.
The enemy fired lightly and the shore batteries replied fiercely. Our guns and air power seemed weak. The enemy used countless numbers of boats and landed on Rendova.
At 8 a.m. our planes finally came. At 8:30 the warships withdrew. About 20 planes kept watch from the sky at all times. There were no friendly planes above. Early in the morning we fired 30 rounds at enemy ships at a distance of 8,500 meters. At daylight there was naval gunfire and a daylight enemy landing.
At 2 p.m., some planes came from the west (Rabaul), I believe, because about 30 medium attack planes are sure a sight.
We are moved to tears and waved our hands, saying, “We’re counting on you we’re counting on you.”
A report soon came in that [enemy] transports and warships had been sunk. At 2:30 a large formation of 70 planes raided our positions with immense bombs, but no direct hits were scored.
/>A typical Japanese pillbox. (Army)
July 1: We received heavy shelling from naval vessels. There was a new attack on Rendova by enemy forces. The report of destroyers shelling Rendova was received, and conjectures of all sorts were exchanged.
Only a few enemy night fighters appeared, and they only circled the coast from time to time. Rain clouds fell about us and at times when we were doing shelter work, we couldn’t see. We transported ammunition, and when we completed the work, it was 2:30 a.m.
All through the night the enemy’s boats moved about. There were no landings, but at dawn (4 a.m.) there were already four enemy warships in nearby waters. At 4:40 enemy fighter planes appeared. After that 20 to 30 enemy fighter planes constantly flew overhead. About every hour the type of planes changed.
At 9:30 a friendly carrier-based fighter [a Mitsubishi A6M-series “Zero”] appeared. Two destroyers were bombed, and one destroyer gave forth bellows of smoke just in front of our positions. At times, the proportion was four Curtisses [P-40s] to one Zero.
Gun reports could be heard from all directions, and there was a roar of friendly light bombers. I filled my stomach with hardtack, and at 7 a.m. we finally finished our fatigue work.
July 2: Because of rain, I got into an air raid shelter and took a nap, getting soaking wet.
At 10 a.m. there’s supposed to be a raid on enemy positions by our fighter planes and heavy bombers. Up until now there has not been any telephone liaison because an order came from the Field Defense HQ for the 2nd Platoon to evacuate after the 1st Platoon had completed preparations for firing.
At 8 a.m. we received naval gunfire from one enemy cruiser. I was scared to death. I stooped over to take a smoke when the shells came. I suppose there will be another naval shelling tonight. If there were only some of our air forces there, the warships would soon be put out of action. When 10 rolled around, friendly planes did not appear as expected.
A report has been received that the enemy was affecting simultaneous landings at Lae, New Guinea, and Arundel. The telegraph was interfered with, and we could not reach the Eighth Area Army [the Japanese army command responsible for the Solomons, headquartered on Rabaul].
We heard that the Eighth Area Army has reinforced nearby units to full strength and has already turned the offensive. Don’t the super-dreadnoughts, Yamato and Musashi, ever move?
Heavy naval shelling continues. At 1:20 p.m. I heard what I thought was the shelling of several ships: It turned out to be friendly bombers. The roar was terrific. To those without binoculars, these were identified as Boeing [B-17s]. I wonder how they felt about these supposed 30 “Boeings” with fighter planes until they were informed they were friendly. What they thought to be an enemy formation were new-model heavy [Mitsubishi G4M2 “Betty”] bombers.
July 3: What kind of operation could our troops be planning? Everything is as the enemy wishes it. Today, again no friendly planes appeared. Not even a boat came. Since the enemy landed, four days have passed, and it must be about time they have completed their positions and general preparations.
If we are going to fight, now is the time — come and get us. I pray that our movements begin an hour sooner or even a day sooner. If it were now, we could beat them. However, we are outnumbered 10 to 1, and our materiel and provisions are limited.
If [we] would only sacrifice a little and pound them on Rendova with the air force and naval shelling, it would be all right. But the way things are going right now, we’re just waiting to be struck by the enemy.
/>Marines unloading landing craft on a Rendova Island beach, 4 July 1943. They are unloading in a hurry after a bomb struck between the two craft in the center. (National Archives)
July 4: At 6 last evening, we received a report that the enemy is on the nearest island about 1,000 meters south of our positions, so we fired with 25mm naval guns with instantaneous fuses.
The guns were located 300 meters north of our positions. The shells passed over [our] positions. We cautioned everyone because they were instantaneous fuses.
The enemy did not return the fire.
Last night it rained heavily. Covering my head and crouching, I slept in the corner of the shelter. It was a big storm, and there was terrific thunder from the direction of Rendova, but it was better than being shelled. Everyone got soaking wet, but nobody said a word.
Sleeping on the ground at night and cooling the stomach caused everyone to get diarrhea. We sized up the healthy men, but there were some — like Cpl. Nishimura— who had developed a fever of 42 degrees Celsius [107.6 degrees Farenheit].
Last night, we got wet, too, and I believe it is because of this that our bodies are filthy and our buttocks seem like they were affected by poison oak. It affects our arms and legs.
Noon: The sergeant and I ate in the shelter and we were talking of the landing of 3,000 infantrymen tomorrow night when the descent of a shell interrupted us.
Suddenly a bomber formation appeared from the south. I thought we were going to get it again, but they turned out to be friendly.
After a short time I heard explosions from the direction of Rendova. Out of our 16 medium attack planes, six were shot down by Curtiss planes. [All 16 Japanese bombers attacking Rendova on July 4, 1943, were destroyed, 12 by U.S. Marine antiaircraft fire.]
/>Attacking at dawn in a heavy rainstorm, the first Americans ashore on Rendova Island in 1943 huddled behind tree trunks and any other cover they could find. (Navy)
July 5: Last night’s report was that an enemy force had landed at North Munda, just east of Aidawa [the Japanese name for the Barike River, nearly four miles east of Munda Field].
Kolombangara was shelled by naval fire. Last night, because of poor visibility, both sides ceased firing. They don’t fire howitzers after dark because the flame gives away their position.
July 6: There is a little mountain artillery fire from our side. We could hear the sound of the enemy’s boats, but aside from that, everything was normal.
The report this morning is that a battalion of mountain artillery and two battalions of infantry have landed for guard duty.
At 5 a.m. there was the sound of bombs bursting around North Munda. This more than likely is the landing of friendly troops and of our transports being attacked.
Because of the rain, day after day, and the lack of time for things to dry out, the moldy, sharp odor is terrific. Everything is soaking wet.
Private Ota is an orderly because Iwasato is sick. He used to live with his mother, who is his only living relative. He had supported her by working at a factory. Because he was called up, his 64-year-old mother had to go to work. If they only knew back there that he had come to the front, possibly some help would come from the factory, but he never knew where he would land, and he finally came here.
When they talk of conditions back home, they say he turns to tears. I feel sorry for him.
July 7: The shelling stopped last night. There were no enemy planes either. I came out, and for the first time in some time, I felt like a human being. After it got dark, the quarter moon was to my west at the height of 20 degrees. First it dropped and then it appeared overhead.
If this moon gets round, I bet that the battle will also get more violent.
Yesterday, we were supposed to shell the enemy positions, but it was called off. If we were to do this kind of thing at night, one can never tell what sort of a shelling we would receive because they can see everything from the hills of Rendova.
I prayed that the shells wouldn’t fit well, but they did. I’m almost positive now that they’ll come to order us to fire.
We certainly must not have control of the skies. Our forces must still be mustering warships and transports. They must be using our air force for that purpose.
This morning’s shelling commenced at 8. I went about unconcerned, lying down when some shells burst 30 to 40 meters away from me, which caused me to jump out of my breeches. I don’t exactly appreciate this shelling.
Sgt. Maj. Ishirane, who had gone to Shortland [Island], returned last night. He brought some stationery and some cigarettes. Second Platoon Lt. Obazaki, who was supposed to take up duties here, also arrived.
According to what they say, there is an order that two more probational officers are to be assigned to the 21st Company, but they are being trained at Rabaul at the present.
During the afternoon, a transport laden with AA guns entered Rendova. During the evening, our seaplanes bombed the enemy [naval] base at Rendova.
I could see the firing of the enemy AA guns and their searchlights well. From that action, I judge that there must be six or eight guns.
Three thousand men [Japanese reinforcements] have already landed on Kolombangara. Only 800 men landed at Munda last night because of the shortage of boats. The enemy also landed at two different points, and right now, our forces are attacking the enemy.
/>The "Long Tom" 155mm M1A1 gun in action. (Marine Corps)
July 8: Last evening, I received my first and possibly last mail from home.
It appeared that they haven’t received my letters yet and are somewhat doubtful as to whether I’m still alive or not. They learned that I was on New Georgia. They will really worry if the news of the enemy landing on New Georgia is announced in the newspapers.
Father repeated in his letter that I must fight to the last as an honorable warrior. I will fight to the last, always for the emperor. I will show them that we will fight to the last.
March 6 (letter from father): “There is nothing quite so doubtful as to whether life or death be with one, yet we write at random like searching and traversing a battlefield.”
March 31: “Pray for cherished glory.”
My aged father wrote on April 12: “Even though your soul should remain in the South Sea Islands, follow the will of Heaven.”
Hardly any correspondence of the entire company was more than my own.
The men came up and said, “Sir, it really turned out to be a great mistake to send the sergeant major to Shortland, since it turned out to be all for your good.”
Everyone laughed. It’s all because of my father’s thoughtfulness.
July 9: The artillery barrage started at 2 a.m.
There were great numbers of tracer shells, which made it like day. However, the tracer shells went overhead and did not hit within the positions.
During this shelling, 2nd Lt. Imura (a graduate of Naseda University), who was attached to the searchlight battalion, and one other soldier were killed by a direct hit.
Many officers of my immediate acquaintance were dying right alongside.
When the shelling ceased, three Zero planes came over to reconnoiter and then returned. At 7:30 a.m., about 50 Grummans [TBFs] came over.
Since our positions could be clearly seen from Rendova, we could not fire. I was really fed up when the order came from the Field Defense HQ to fire.
Our CO began to feel sympathy toward the men. He couldn’t figure out any way to fire that wasn’t to our disadvantage.
After he laughingly said, “I would like to die now after seeing the action of our troops," he continued by saying that he would leave all the decisions up to the platoon leaders. He showed a sense of sympathy and never came out with an order to fire.
If our operations would only start, I would fire again and again, even though our positions would be exposed and we in turn would be fired upon. As it is now, we are being fired upon, and we have not returned fire.
Enemy planes are constantly overhead, so I can’t even take a step outside of our shelters. If we were to fire now, they would concentrate their fire on us, and our emplacements would be leveled.
And then all of us would be annihilated together.
We shall fight. Right now, living is more important. In the last stages of this battle, if we can stop the tanks from coming in from the south, then we can die laughing.
/>Smoke from a Japanese bomb explosion drifts over a U.S. Army 155 mm "long Tom" gun, after an enemy air raid on its position on Rendova Island in the summer of 1943. The gun was employed in shelling Japanese positions on nearby New Georgia. (National Archives)
July 10: My, the shelling is fierce, but aside from a little scare, the results have been nil. But still, if [a shell] were to hit our shelter, we’re goners.
All of the personnel, wearing steel helmets within the shelters, waited quietly for action. The heat in the shelter was like that of a cellar, and the unpleasant odor drifted about.
It is suicidal to go to the latrine. I put on my helmet, and after I had made complete preparations, I took off for the bomb crater, which was in front of me. While I was defecating, six or seven shells fell, so I took off and came back.
At 3:30 p.m., the shelling ceased. The artillery’s accuracy has become a real thing. We never can tell when we are to die.
Oh, God! I would like to die after seeing the action of our invincible imperial forces. After looking at a dud, I can see that the enemy’s artillery is 150mm [155mm, actually].
July 11: The 13th Infantry Regiment, which was scheduled to land last night, did so at Bairoko Harbor. We are about to take the initiative.
At 7:40 a.m. 45 carrier-based Grummans appeared. Aside from a close hit, all of the rest of the bombs were dropped elsewhere.
During the afternoon for about 2 1⁄2 hours, concentrated fire rained on us. The enemy has fired at least 2,000 rounds today. Some hit within five meters of my shelter.
At this rate, day after tomorrow, I’ll be a goner. The enemy is firing about 20 rounds at a time. Regardless of what shelter I may be in, at the present rate, it will be of no avail.
One of our precious guns was lost in today’s bombing.
/>Warships from Rear Admiral. A. S. Merrill's Cruiser- destroyer force shell Munda Airfield, New Georgia, from Blanche Channel, at 0300 hours on 12 July 1943. Marines reported that while the shelling looked impressive at night, it proved relatively ineffectual against well-entrenched Japanese troops. The impact area was far in advance of the front lines so the Japanese simply moved closer to American positions to escape the pounding. (National Archives)
July 12: Last evening, I was watching the shelling and some fell within three meters of the positions. It is really a mystery why there have not been any personnel losses up until now.
Right now, I am lying on my side, facing Rendova, with the acting operator, 1st Class Pvt. Tomioka, but today or sometime tomorrow I guess we’ll be hit.
If our last gun were to be destroyed, then our company would become a labor outfit.
Since our mission is that of a tank destroyer unit, we couldn’t very well stay hidden.
We went out to take a peep to the south several times. Fortunately, there were no tanks. When the shelling ceased, we were on the verge of collapse from fatigue and lack of sleep.
At 7 a.m. about 40 Douglas [SBD] bombers effected a general bombing. After about 8:50, we had a concentration of fire on our positions. The 4th Squad’s gun was knocked out. One [shell] burst south and to one side of our shelter, and this made several marks on the aiming apparatus and the barrel.
The ammunition was set afire. Demolition shells must be good only for things above ground level because, queer as it may seem, the personnel are still intact.
This winds up things for this 3rd Platoon leader with the loss of three guns. Losing the guns puts a sense of guilt on me, yet the personnel are intact. There is nothing for us to do but to feel fortunate in the midst of all the bad luck.
From now on, we are a labor company.
/>Two survivors of the sunken Japanese light cruiser Jintsu on board the destroyer Nicholas after the Battle of Kolombangara, 13 July 1943. They are dressed in well-worn U.S. Navy enlisted working uniforms. (National Archives)
July 13: All the personnel assembled where the Field Defense HQ was located, in the midst of shelling, after having come through the dark jungle and over muddy paths.
We dug dugouts in the empty area. After getting wet from the evening dew, we lay down. The distance we traveled really was hard going, so much that it hardly can be expressed.
Sgt. Takagi died last night in the naval shelling. The dead already amounted to 6 to 7 men. Lance Cpl. Ito and four men, who were handling rations, are missing.I must say that there is close cooperation between [the enemy’s] air, land, and naval forces.
Our forces have not carried out a large-scale bombing they haven’t shelled Rendova with a single battleship, nor have they given the army any heavy artillery pieces.
What do you call this? How could such action be called modern war?
I keenly feel the poor liaison of the Japanese forces and the weakness of our military strength. My! This is really disheartening. We haven’t been fighting, merely dying in the midst of bombs and shelling.
However, the Japanese forces couldn’t let the enemy have his own way we must look forward with expectations that something will be done.
Probational Officer Oura [the author] has been ordered to be the rifle platoon leader. Probational Officer Takagi has been ordered to be the CO of the 41st Battalion. We are to provide defense and security against the enemy, who is penetrating into the area of North Munda.
The organization is now 27 men and a company of three squads. We are to make it impossible for an advance and attack to be made from any direction.
/>Flamethrowers in action at Munda. (Army)
July 14: Several enemy planes came over early this morning and circled at a low altitude to our rear.
After every reconnoitering, shelling would follow. We are doing our best camouflaging right now. Evidently we haven’t been exposed, because shells are landing 300 meters to our left and right.
The sick, with 2nd Lt. Hattori, are to return from the 41st Battalion sometime today. I am supposed to be in charge of them, and they are to be the 2nd Platoon. I am also to be in command of the rifle platoon.
We rested at battalion headquarters for a little while when the order came for us to wait at the former positions, so we returned. Shells were falling, and there were patients being carried in on stretchers while fighters hovered over us in plain daylight.
It was so bad, I can’t go on talking about it.
At 11 a.m., the order came for Probational Officer Oura and six men to go to the east lookout post, another new position for the Field Defense HQ 2nd Lt. Imura was killed and a total of four wounded today.
I immediately departed in the rain, and I stumbled time and time again while going through the jungle. On my way, I stopped at Field Defense HQ and received orders. I took command of 12 men, including the medical unit.
As usual, shelling was concentrated on the pom-pom gun positions. The sounds of the explosions and the concussions were terrific.
I lay down in the canvas shelter unconcerned.
/>PT-157's crew members pose on the boat's foredeck, at Rendova, Solomon Islands, in July 1943, while operating in support of the New Georgia operation. Note PT-157's Aces & Eights insignia painted below her number on the cabin front. (Marine Corps)
July 15: I picked Lance Cpl. Sugiyama, Wakita, Shimura, Muramatsu, and Ota, the six best men. Tomorrow, Cpl. Takahashi and his five men will come and then we will have a strength of 12 men. We are going to start installing a 10cm gun. This east lookout post is the eye of all the forces in Munda.
I set up binoculars and observed the enemy positions.
The U.S. flag could be seen fluttering on PT-boats. A destroyer, which had been camouflaged, was at anchor. You could call [the scene] a war movie or perhaps a “Newsweek” movie [a Japanese equivalent of Movietone or Paramount newsreels].
At any rate, it is interesting to an outsider. The moving boats and bursting shells looked as if you could almost grab them.
This morning’s shelling was a shelling of all shellings. By 7 they had already fired 1,000 rounds into the vicinity of the Kawai Detachment’s positions.
Lance Cpl. Sugiyama was struck. I believe it will take him about a month and a half to recover.
Shells are hitting close by right now, so we can’t go outside.
The offending odor of perspiration in the dugout is unbearable. The place where we stand guard has already become the death ground of two men. No one back home would ever think that we are living in a crater. I am taking the place of 2nd Lt. Imura. It is really smelly.
They said that they hadn’t found the two legs of the men yet.
Four-engine Consolidated bombers [B-24s] fly around at low altitude. I can see plainly through my binoculars two men looking this way from the window to the rear of the insignia.
July 17: I had to lie down inside the narrow dugout because close hits were bursting in great numbers.
Present strength is the CO and 13 men.From 3 p.m., the 41st Battalion fired their AA guns against artillery positions at Roviana for about one hour.
One shell made a direct hit but only after many unsuccessful efforts.
July 18: It rained heavily last night.
The sound of explosions is terrific. Anticipating a landing by the enemy between tonight and dawn, we guarded more closely.
I held the binoculars from 3 to 6:30 a.m., when it was pretty certain that it was safe. I could not sleep on account of the rain and telephone calls that came from Field Defense HQ and the 41st Battalion, and my fatigue mounted.
I inquired about a shell that burst nearby this morning.
I hear the enemy is increasingly concentrating his troops on Guadalcanal for a new offensive. However, we must not complain because our navy and our air force might be striking at Guadalcanal.
If we can only crush Guadalcanal, the enemy at Rendova will be automatically annihilated.
/>Japanese "Dai Hatsu" landing craft swamped on a New Georgia beach, 19 July 1943. (National Archives)
July 19: Last night’s shelling was terrific.
This concentration of fire is just over our dugout. Since it has only one entrance, the air is stuffy, and the sounds of the explosions cause ringing in our ears. It is really more than I can bear. The men were scared, and they all ran into my dugout.
I had to take them out mercilessly and assign them to other dugouts. There were nine men in the dugout, and if it were to receive a direct hit, the entire personnel would be buried alive.
July 20: According to a report, our infantry has completely encircled the enemy at Aidawa and has cut off his ammo supplies. A general offensive is to start within a few days.
At 2 p.m., some 20 bombers came over and dropped a string of huge bombs. Compared to artillery shelling, it is much louder. The concussion is terrific.
The navy gun below the east lookout post has already been fired upon with about 1,000 shells, but it is still firing. It’s a wonder they are still living. It is so hard to believe that they can endure so long. They are showing us vividly the spirit of the Imperial navy.
/>Camouflaged Japanese l40mm naval guns with their ammunition intact were put out of action at Enogai by a landward attack from Marine Raiders. (Marine Corps)
July 21: All night long, there were reports of small arms and artillery firing.
I heard two wild dogs barking in the distance I wonder what they could be eating.
Huge shells burst at the base of the east lookout post with great violence. Isn’t there any other place for them to fire at?
In the midst of all the noise, I still slept well. I have come to a point where I have developed a belief that I will not be struck by a shell. The first thing I’m grateful for is my well-being and three meals a day, each consisting of a bowl and a half of rice. All three meals are very appetizing.
My health seems to give me a continuous source of vigor. To be able to eat a heavy meal during the rain of continuous shells is one thing I have looked forward to.
At 8 a.m. we received concentrated shellings of several hundred rounds.
The second tent was thrown helter-skelter, and the first tent received a large hole. The siren shed and the tent where the CO had been staying were destroyed. The lower dugout received a direct hit, but there were no casualties. Huge trees, which had stood for so many years, and others, were knocked down. Consequently, there was hardly any vegetation to be seen in the direction of the east lookout post.
I lay flat along the edge of the dugout for 20 minutes, thinking this was our end, but there were no casualties.
July 22: Last evening, what appeared to be a friendly medium attack plane bombed Aidawa and Rendova twice.
The constant increase of AA guns over Rendova has made it difficult for our planes. The number of shells their AA guns and ours shoot is quite different. It really is a barrage, and they make it so you can’t get in.
The difference between the enemy’s firing and ours is that their searchlight units and guns work separately. Even if our planes do not get in the rays of the searchlights, several thousand shells set up a barrage around the area.
At 8 a.m., carrier-based bombers bombed several places. Most of the bombing was on the troops in the rear, and they strafed them heavily.
To the south of the east lookout post, our navy pom-poms are firing away. If I am to die, there is nothing I can do about it, so I just lay in my dugout, smoking a cigarette and listening to the wild American-made music of “rat-tat-tat” and “boom-boom-boom.”
Just think: I haven’t washed my body or my face nor have I brushed my teeth for a month already. One of my upper front teeth has been broken off.
My body smells like that of a wild dog.
At 2 p.m., I received such fierce shelling that I finally had to dispatch Cpl. Takahashi to ask Capt. Kobayashi as to our future dispositions.
They must have gone crazy in the Aidawa area because they are shelling there for all they are worth. From the way it sounds, it seems like a wild man beating a drum.
Since last night, Superior Pvt. Makita has been with me in my dugout. They fired several hundred rounds while we both lay flat on the edge of the dugout. I used a life preserver for a pillow and a blanket to cover myself. My ears rang as a shell burst one meter to the left and in front of the guard post, and I was covered with coral.
I thought that I was really a goner this time, but I was saved.
Only by staying in the dugout can I say that I’m still alive. The drum in front of the dugout is full of holes. A piece of shrapnel hit my back, and I thought I was finished.
Mysteriously, there were no deaths. We had to do away with a standing guard. We’re just leaving everything open to the enemy.
Oh, friendly forces! Please come to our aid! Show them the might of the Japanese army.
/>Catching 40 winks between his duties of supplying a 155 mm gun with shells, this barefooted serviceman finds himself a bed top his ammunition dump on Rendova on 30 June 1943. (National Archives)
July 23: Battle Situation: Nothing aside from annihilation. No cooperation from the navy.
If I were to compare the complete cooperation of the enemy, it would be like the war of a child with an adult. Our mountain artillery positions were knocked to pieces by enemy tanks. We are encircled, so they say, and about to be overrun. Consequently, all we can do is to guard our present positions.
As things are now, even if our air and naval forces [give] battle, we could not regain the lost ground.
Great numbers of enemy planes are constantly up in the sky. In front of the island, camouflaged destroyers and PT-boats swarm in and out.
What in the world could our forces at Rabaul or the staff of Imperial headquarters be doing? Where have our air forces and battleships gone? Are we to lose? Why don’t they start operations?
We are positively fighting to win, but we have no weapons. We stand with rifles and bayonets to meet the enemy’s aircraft, battleships, and medium artillery. To be told we must win is absolutely beyond reason.
The Japanese army is still depending on the hand-to-hand fighting of the Meiji era, while the enemy is using highly developed scientific weapons.
Thinking it over, however, this poorly armed force of ours has not been overcome, and we are still guarding this island. But this is no time for praise. If [our] forces don’t move, this island will soon be taken.
If we, as well as the enemy, were to fight to the end with all available weapons, then I would be willing to give up, whether we win, lose, be injured or be killed. But in a war like this, where we are like a baby’s neck in the hands of an adult, even if I die, it will be a hateful death.
How regretful! My most regretful thought is my grudge toward the forces in the rear and my increasing hatred toward the Operational Staff.
In the rear, they think that it is all for the benefit of our country. In short, as present conditions are, it is a defeat. However, a Japanese officer will always believe, until the very last, that there will be movements of our air and naval forces.
There are signs that I am contracting malaria again.
/>Locals eating crackers ("C" ration variety) at Munda on 28 October 1943, after the airfield had been captured. (National Archives)
Epilogue: This was Oura’s last entry. His fate is unknown, but given the few prisoners taken and the relative handful of Japanese who escaped from New Georgia, it is unlikely that he survived.
Six days after Oura’s final entry, the battered and depleted Japanese forces began withdrawing to Kolombangara and adjacent islands, and Munda airfield fell on Aug. 5, 1943.
For the victorious Americans, some two weeks of mopping-up operations remained before New Georgia was deemed secure.
In the last hours of war, blood and heroism and irony and loss
World War II was clearly in its closing days — or was it?
Jack H. McCall Jr. writes from Marietta, Georgia. He thanks Joseph Pratl and the late Frank Bellis for providing the copy of the 37th Division’s translation of Toshihiro Oura’s diary from which this version was made, and Dye Ogata for his verification of its authenticity. This piece originally appeared in the Spring 2005 edition of Military History Quarterly, a sister publication of Navy Times.
“He Stood There it Seemed Like an Hour Exposed Wide Open and Loaded and Fired Until the Magazine was Empty.”Pfc. Joe Martinez.
With a break in the weather, the battle-hardened soldiers struck at the Fish Hook again. When K Company, 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry was delayed by Japanese machine gunners, Pfc. Joe P. Martinez began advancing at the enemy positions firing his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), killing five Japanese defenders.
“He stood there it seemed like an hour,” recalled one eyewitness, “exposed wide open and loaded and fired until the magazine was empty. He loaded two or three times and then we heard it, a kind of crack and thoomp! Martinez fell backwards towards us.” The New Mexico native had sustained a serious head wound that would prove fatal. For his extraordinary bravery, Martinez would be Attu’s sole Medal of Honor recipient.
By May 27 most of the Fish Hook was in U.S. hands. The infantry now could see Buffalo Ridge—the last remaining Japanese stronghold on Attu. It was a matter of several hundred yards, and the enemy resistance on the island would be broken and the battle over. Yamasaki had only 800 troops left from his original contingent of 2,650. He knew no additional troops were coming. Surrender was out of the question the Bushido Code of the Japanese soldier forbade such an action. He had two options, as he saw it: wait for the inevitable assault and kill as many Americans as possible—or attack. He chose the latter.
Yamasaki prepared his men for the final Banzai. He would strike the Americans at the weakest part of their perimeter—the point between the Buffalo and the Fish Hook. He would hit them at night when they would be most vulnerable. His men would charge up Engineer Hill, where the Americans stored their artillery, ammunition, and food, and capture it. He would then take as much of the captured supplies with him as possible, destroying the rest, and turn the enemy’s own 105mm cannon on them as well.
In the predawn hours of May 29, Yamasaki gathered his men and quietly marched up the valley floor. After killing several American guards, he moved through the perimeter without being detected.
At 3:30 am, the terrifying cry of “Banzai!” filled the cold night air as Yamasaki’s band surged ahead, running into Company B, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry, which was coming off the front lines for a much deserved hot breakfast. The soldiers ran as the enemy pushed ahead to their objective. Yamasaki’s men slashed and bayoneted their way through the thinly held line. Wounded men were killed where they lay. Others faked death and survived the onslaught.
The noise soon alerted the units defending Engineer Hill. Calmly, Brig. Gen. Archibald V. Arnold organized a provisional force from the 13th and 50th Engineers, the 7th Medical Battalion, the 20th Field Headquarters, and a few frostbitten soldiers from the 4th Infantry being treated there.
Creating a defensive perimeter, Arnold had his men toss hand grenades at the charging mass of Japanese moving up the hill. A 37mm gun was swung into action. The combination of the small arms fire, hand grenades, and 37mm shells tore into the enemy’s ranks. When the Japanese survivors managed to climb to the crest, they encountered bayonets and rifles. Bloody fighting ensued, and the assault petered out as the enemy left the hill and melted into the night.
Several additional attempts were made to seize Engineer Hill by Yamasaki’s men, but they resulted in failure. Hundreds of enemy troops committed suicide after the attack was beaten back. Later that morning, Colonel Yamasaki was also killed leading a futile charge against the American perimeter.
With the exception of mopping-up action, the fight for Attu was finished. The Americans sustained 3,829 casualties: 549 killed, 1,148 wounded, 1,200 frostbite victims, 614 from sickness and exposure to the cold weather, and 318 as a result of suicide, combat fatigue, and accidents. The Japanese were virtually annihilated, with only 28 surrendering to U.S. forces.
The body of a Japanese soldier who fought to the death lies sprawled on the floor of his bunker at Hoitz Bay on the island of Attu. The soldier had been previously wounded as evidenced by old bandages.
Attu would prove to be beneficial for future planners. U.S. Army troops had successfully completed their first amphibious assault. Also, cold weather combat was closely studied. Medical personnel examined veterans of the fighting to avoid future errors. Clothing and supplies received top priority for upcoming cold weather operations.
The movement of Japanese forces from Truk in the Caroline Islands in an attempt to evacuate Attu and Kiska’s defenders siphoned ships and troops away from other Pacific fighting. This left Rendova, in the Central Solomons, largely undefended, and the island was taken with ease in June. Clearly, the capture of Attu reaped huge benefits for the United States.
Despite these rewards, the Attu campaign received scant attention in the U.S. newspapers. One veteran remarked sarcastically, “No Marines—-otherwise it would have been world history.”
The Army and Navy were humiliated by the costly mistakes committed during the campaign and did not want to face public scrutiny. The sacrifices made by the brave soldiers were “played down by the ministries of war propaganda.”
The combat on Attu was unforgiving and brutal. As historian Brian Garfield wrote: “The price of weatherbeaten Attu had been high. In proportion to the number of troops engaged, it would rank as the second most costly American battle in the Pacific Theater—second only to Iwo Jima.”
Al Hemingway is a Marine Corps veteran of the war in Vietnam. He has written extensively on World War II in both the the Pacific and European Theaters.
Muddy soldiers, Rendova Island - History
By Jon Diamond
Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet, did not want another protracted campaign like he had experienced while trying to take Munda in New Georgia. He stated, “The undue length of the Munda operation and our casualties made me wary of another slugging match, but I didn’t know how to avoid it.”
As a result, rather than assault every island occupied by Japanese forces, he decided to bypass them and allow them to “wither on the vine” while moving on to capture more essential islands. But it was a hard-learned lesson.
Early Allied victories in the Pacific War, beginning in May 1942, have been identified as campaigns that stemmed thevictorious Japanese tide of 1941-1942. First, the “strategic victory” of the U.S. Navy’s carrier air forces at the Battle of the Coral Sea during the first week of May 1942 thwarted the Imperial Japanese Navy’s (IJN) amphibious assault against Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea, protecting northern Australia across the Arafura Sea.
Second was the U.S. Navy’s sinking of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s four aircraft carriers at Midway in early June 1942, which crippled future IJN initiatives on the scale mounted during the war’s initial six months.
Third, the Americans’ epic, grueling conquest of Guadalcanal in the southern Solomon Islands by land, sea, and air forces from August 7, 1942, through February 7, 1943, deterred any planned Japanese southeastward expansion into the South Pacific, which was intended to sever the sea lanes to the Antipodes.
Fourth, the initial defense by Australian military forces in New Guineaalong the Kokoda Trail and at Milne Bay in August-September 1942 prevented separate Japanese overland and amphibious assaults, respectively, aimed at seizing Port Moresby. This was followed by a combined Australian-American offensive from November 1942-January 1943, under General Douglas A. MacArthur, through the hellacious northern Papuan jungle and coast to capture the entrenched and tenaciously defended Japanese garrisons at Buna and Gona.
By landing at several points in the New Georgia group, American forces were able to pin their opponents into areas from which escape would be difficult, if not impossible.
What has been ignored, however, is the backbreaking series of defeats that the Japanese suffered in their attempts to defend the New Georgia group of islands in the central Solomons. The toll in Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) units, naval ships, aircraft and crews was never replaced after the defeats suffered on those jungle hellholes—especially given the requirement of Imperial forces elsewhere in the Central Pacific and on New Guinea and the Asian mainland.
Additionally, the capture of Japanese airdromes on these central Solomon Islands brought the fledgling Allied air campaign closer to Rabaul on New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago.
The Solomon chain, consisting of six major islands and many smaller ones, is more than 500 miles long. Bougainville, 300 miles to the north of Guadalcanal, is one of the most northern in the island chain as well as the largest at 130 miles long and 30 miles wide.
North of Guadalcanal lay the 11 main islands in the central Solomons, with New Georgia, at 45 by 35 miles, being largest. The Japanese had situated a major airfield and base at Munda Point on New Georgia’s southwestern tip. Munda Point is the approximate center of the central Solomon group and is situated about 170 miles northwest of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Other islands in this group include Kolombangara, Arundel, Vella Lavella, Gizo, Ganongga, Tetipari, Gatukai, Vangunu, and Rendova. Rendova is located about seven miles south of New Georgia across the Blanche Channel.
The proximity of Rendova to Munda Point played a major role in Halsey’s strategic plans for his offensive after securing the Russell Islands following the Guadalcanal victory. The Russell Islands, some 125 miles southeast of New Georgia, were the obvious stepping stones for Halsey’s South Pacific Force to advance toward the central Solomons.
The terrain of New Georgia is typical of the islands in the central Solomons, with heavy rain forests covering volcanic cores. The coastline of the island is irregular with many inlets, lagoons, and channels. Immediately inland from the coast are rugged, jungle-covered cliffs suitable landing beaches were few in number.
The Japanese reconnoitered New Georgia in October 1942 with the intent of building suitable airfields to support the action on Guadalcanal. As early as December 1942, American scout planes discovered the Japanese hard at work on a well-camouflaged airfield at Munda Point. Elements of the Sasebo 6th Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) along with some IJA detachments and construction crews had arrived in late November. American pilots also observed that another Japanese airfield was being completed at Vila on Kolombangara across the Kula Gulf from northwestern New Georgia.
Lieutenant Colonel Lester Brown (standing) briefs officers of the 103rd Regiment, 43rd Infantry Division, dressed in camouflage-pattern uniforms, prior to boarding several LCIs (Landing Craft, Infantry) in the Russell Islands for transport to Rendova, June 1943.
By the first week of February 1943, the Guadalcanal campaign was won by the U.S. Marines, Army, and Navy after almost six months of horrific jungle combat, aerial attacks, and naval surface actions. However, the Japanese did not consider Guadalcanal’s evacuation more than a temporary setback in the South Pacific. Both the emperor and his military leaders expounded that Japanese forces were simply changing emphasis. For several months they had been on the offensive on Guadalcanal and on the defensive in Papua, New Guinea. A reversal was soon to occur.
For the IJA, after its eviction from Buna and Gona, the important matter was the capture of all of New Guinea with a renewed drive for Port Moresby from Lae in northeast New Guinea. The Solomons in the South Pacific were to be an IJN problem, under the continued leadership of the Japanese Combined Fleet Commander, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto. This disunity in effort and planning between the Japanese armed forces had major corrosive effects in subsequent campaigns, which bore little resemblance to the lightning string of victories from December 1941 to May 1942.
Yamamoto wanted to regain the strategic initiative and win one additional major victory after the losses at Coral Sea, Midway, Papua, and Guadalcanal. A decisive Japanese victory in 1943 might compel the Allies to seek a negotiated peace and allow the Japanese to keep their new Pacific empire.
During the first week of February 1943, shortly after the successful Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal, Operation Ke, Yamamoto drew a new defensive line in the South Pacific running north to south through the middle of the Solomons. He had withdrawn his advanced IJN bases to newly constructed airfields and installations on New Georgia, Kolombangara, and Vella Lavella in the central Solomons.
With the abandonment of Guadalcanal, Imperial headquarters in Tokyo made plans to reinforce the area to regain the initiative. The IJA and IJN would have to work together again with the latter bringing in supplies and ground reinforcements to the garrisons––especially on New Georgia with its airfield at Munda Point.
Yamamoto was responsible for continued operations in the Solomons, while Lt. Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, the 8th Area Army commander on Rabaul, directed the ground forces in the central Solomons. The IJA troops in the Solomons included the 17th Army under Lt. Gen. Harukichi (Seikichi) Hyakutake.
Following their defeat on Guadalcanal, the Japanese still retained a distinct advantage in the Solomons. Their fighter aircraft––the IJN Mitsubishi A6M Reisen, or Zero, along with the IJA Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa, or Oscar—had longer ranges (nearly 2,000 miles) than American fighter planes. Additionally, the central Solomon airfields at Munda, Vila, and Barakoma (on Vella Lavella) were to be staging areas for Japanese air raids emanating from Rabaul to attack the American bases at Tulagi and Guadalcanal.
At these central Solomon airfields, Japanese planes refueled and had emergency landing sites to conserve the diminishing number of skilled pilots, many of whom had been lost in air combat elsewhere. During the late winter of 1943, American fighters based on Guadalcanal did not have the range to reach Rabaul, engage the enemy in aerial combat, and return to their bases. Recognizing this logistical advantage, Yamamoto intended to reinvigorate his air attacks on Guadalcanal from his airdromes on Rabaul.
After Yamamoto built the central Solomon airfields, the Japanese admiral had compelled the IJA to initially provide roughly 10,000 protective garrison troops for them, including the complex at Munda Point on New Georgia.
Ironically, during a morale-boosting trip to the northern Solomons on April 18, 1943, Yamamoto’s personal IJN Mitsubishi G4M3 Betty bomber was shot down by Guadalcanal-based U.S. Army Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters. Admiral Mineichi Koga took over the Combined Fleet after Yamamoto’s death.
Between February and May 1943, the Japanese reinforced New Georgia and Kolombangara with additional IJA and SNLF troops, not knowing which was to be Halsey’s first objective in the U.S. Navy’s central Solomons campaign. In early May 1943, the commander of the 8th Area Army on Rabaul, General Hitoshi Imamura, chose Maj. Gen. Minoru (Noboru) Sasaki to lead the defense of New Georgia and Kolombangara with the designation Commanding General, Southeast Area Detachment, under the administrative direction of the IJA’s 17th Army and the IJN’s 8th Fleet situated at Rabaul.
Sasaki had three years of combat service with an emphasis on mechanized warfare. He was to command troops of the 38th Infantry Group, comprising of elements of the IJA 6th and 38th Divisions, with headquarters at Vila. By the end of May 1943, the Japanese garrison on New Georgia numbered approximately 8,000 troops. At the time of Halsey’s invasion of New Georgia in July, there would be 5,000 IJA and 5,500 SNLF troops on New Georgia, with an additional 4,200 troops available on Santa Isabel Island northeast of New Georgia and due north of the Russell Islands.
Riding in assault craft, Army infantrymen and medics land on a New Georgia beach, where they will be met by native guides.
It was obvious to the Japanese high command that after the Americans secured Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands Allied fighters would be able to attack Kolombangara and New Georgia Island without much difficulty. Additionally, Munda airfield came under marauding U.S. Navy destroyer gunfire as early as March 1943. Halsey’s strategists planned for the seizure of Rendova, south of Munda Point, to serve as a staging area for the main invasion of New Georgia. Rendova was to also serve as an excellent artillery platform to shell Munda airfield with 105mm howitzers and the longer range 155mm “Long Tom” M2 cannons.
Halsey’s central Solomons offensive initially utilized the heavily reinforced U.S. 43rd Infantry Division, transported from both Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands, to secure tactical vantage points at four locales in the immediate vicinity for the eventual invasion of New Georgia and capture of Munda airfield.
The original plan for the invasion of New Georgia was prepared by Halsey’s war plans officer, Marine Brig. Gen. DeWitt Peck however, Allied plans for offensives in the South Pacific were constantly subject to revision. Peck’s early plans called for the landing of a division-strength contingent at Segi Point on the southeastern end of New Georgia. Halsey’s ground forces would then move west in an overland trek to take Munda airfield.
Other officers had serious doubts about the feasibility of both the amphibious landing site at Segi Point and the march to assault Munda through New Georgia’s southern coastal jungle, which was dotted with Japanese outposts.
The Japanese defenders on New Georgia had speculated that the Americans would land at Dragon Peninsula on the southwestern coast and attempt a shorter overland assault on Munda airfield. Most other coastal sites had only small landing areas with thick, trackless jungle. Sasaki felt that a landing along the Dragon Peninsula would enable him to receive major reinforcements from southern Bougainville and Vila on Kolombangara to quickly bolster a defense-in-depth around Munda.
As the fractious American assault planning for New Georgia continued, an initial reconnaissance of the island was made by Marine Lieutenant William P. Coultas, an intelligence officer on Halsey’s staff, accompanied by six other Marines. This contingent landed at Segi Point on March 3, 1943. There, they met the colorful Donald Kennedy and stayed at his armed compound, which included an arsenal and a prisoner-of-war cage at the former Markham Plantation. Kennedy was a British district officer who provided oversight for the western islands and was originally stationed on Santa Isabel Island.
When the Japanese arrived on New Georgia, Kennedy escaped to Segi Point with its more central location and protected approaches with secluded coastal channels. At Segi Point he became a pivotal member of the Australian coastwatching network with expertise in radio repair and communications. Kennedy also commanded an armed local native constabulary that rescued downed Allied pilots, from aerial combat in the region.
Coultas and his fellow leathernecks spent three weeks reconnoitering the area behind enemy lines that the Americans were to soon invade and examining Kennedy’s maps at his coastwatching headquarters. Coultas had prewar experience in the Solomon Islands and spoke pidgin with Kennedy’s native scouts, who assisted his reconnaissance and evasion of Japanese patrols.
Another coastwatcher Coultas met at Segi Point was Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RANVR) Lieutenant A.R. Evans, a prewar purser aboard a steamer in the Solomons, who would play a prominent role in the extraction of future American president Lieutenant (j.g.) John F. Kennedy and his crew after the ramming and sinking of their PT-109 by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri in Blackett Strait on August 2, 1943.
JFK’s motor torpedo vessel was attempting to interdict enemy destroyer traffic from Rabaul (the Tokyo Express), which was bringing reinforcements to Vila and Munda airfields on Kolombangara and New Georgia. In early March 1943, Evans was about to depart for Kolombangara to observe the Japanese airfield construction at Vila, which was to support the enemy airdrome at Munda Point.
After his reconnoitering was complete, Coultas reported to Halsey’s headquarters at Noumea on New Caledonia that a large-scale assault on New Georgia was still possible but not through Segi Point. Coincident with Coultas’s mission, four other Marine patrols with the aid of other coastwatchers in the central Solomon area explored the Roviana Lagoon on the Dragon Peninsula’s eastern shore and identified Zanana and Laiana Beaches as suitable amphibious landing areas. The reports of these Marine scouting patrols clearly demonstrated that Halsey’s assault on New Georgia could be made at points much closer to Munda than had previously been thought.
U.S. Marines fire at Japanese snipers hidden in the dense foliage at one of the landing beaches. Enemy opposition was heavier than U.S. planners expected.
Halsey’s planners now called for landing separate forces at a number of sites in preparation for a major amphibious landing at Zanana beach via the Roviana Lagoon. Rendova, with its barrier islets and harbor, was to be transformed into a PT boat and forward artillery base to interdict the IJN’s seaborne supply runs and to shell Munda.
Three additional targets were deemed necessary to occupy for the eventual seizure of Munda airfield. These included Segi Point, Brig. Gen. Peck’s original main landing position, on the southeastern end of New Georgia near Donald Kennedy’s compound Viru Harbor, a Japanese base up the southern coast of New Georgia west of Segi Point and Wickham Anchorage, a well-situated, sheltered Japanese-occupied harbor off Vangunu Island’s eastern coast, to the east of Segi Point.
The American landing at Segi Point was launched in response to fears of a looming Japanese assault there by the entire 1st Battalion, 229th IJA Infantry Regiment. The Japanese objectives were to seize Kennedy’s fortified base and subsequently build their own airfield at Segi Point. However, Halsey’s planners wanted a fighter strip to be built there by the U.S. Navy Construction Battalions, or Seabees. An airstrip at Segi Point would minimize the distance Halsey’s planes had to fly on missions to the central Solomons from their current airfields on Guadalcanal and from newly constructed ones in the Russell Islands.
Half of the 4th Marine Raider Battalion, under Lt. Col. Michael Currin, landed at Segi Point on June 20-21, 1943, as part of Halsey’s Eastern Landing Force. Colonel Harry B. Liversedge, who oversaw the stateside training of Marine Raider battalions in September 1942, commanded the newly formed (March 1943) 1st Marine Raider Regiment, composed of the 1st and 4th Battalions.
Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment, 43rd Division along with an airfield survey party also landed at Segi Point on June 22 to assist the Marines. The Eastern Landing Force’s mission was to protect Kennedy’s base and the surrounding area for the planned American airfield from any Japanese encroachment from either Viru Harbor or Wickham Anchorage.
As no major encounter occurred at Segi Point, the detachment from the 4th Marine Raider Battalion moved west through intense rain and thick mud to attack Japanese installations at Viru Harbor from the rear on June 30, 1943. After some firefights and a failed Japanese banzai charge by 250 men of the IJA 229th Infantry Regiment, the Marine Raiders captured the enemy compound and a landing-barge facility and shore battery at Viru.
After ferreting out enemy snipers in the surrounding jungle and with the surviving Japanese retreating west to Munda over jungle trails, the Marines turned over the area to Army troops. By July 1, the Japanese position at Viru Harbor ceased being an issue for Halsey’s subsequent movements through Blanche Channel toward the Dragon Peninsula and Rendova.
Another element of Halsey’s Eastern Landing Force seized Wickham Anchorage on June 30, 1943. With its location between Vangunu and Gatukai Islands east of Segi Point, Halsey planned it as a fueling station for PT boats and other small craft moving north from Guadalcanal.
On June 30, Halsey’s Western Landing Force assaulted Rendova during intense tropical rain at that island’s North Point. Elements of the 169th Infantry Regiment, 43rd Division also seized two smaller barrier islands, Bau and Kokorana, to keep Blanche Channel’s approach to Rendova harbor open.
The 43rd Infantry Division’s 172nd Regimental Combat Team’s (RCT) 3,500 men and a battalion of the 103rd Infantry Regiment landed at Rendova and faced no more than 400 Japanese in a series of firefights. The Japanese troops were in company strength from the 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Company of the 6th Kure SNLF.
U.S. Navy destroyers accompanying the transports silenced some Japanese artillery batteries on Munda Point. Fortunately for the Americans landing on Rendova, the majority of Japanese naval guns at Munda were not properly sited to fire on the assault beaches. Also, the Japanese mountain guns at Munda did not have the range to harass the Western Landing Force’s amphibious assault. A few of the enemy on Rendova escaped to Munda.
As the soldiers of the 172nd RCT moved inland from the beachhead on July 1, the Marine 9th Defense Battalion erected anti-aircraft emplacements for their 90mm, 40mm Bofors, 20mm, and .50-caliber guns around the Rendova Plantation.
The predictable Japanese aerial counterattack, although with only Zero fighters from Rabaul, ensued that morning. Allied fighters were dispatched from Guadalcanal and protected the invasion fleet without losing a ship.
Another late afternoon Japanese air attack with both fighters and torpedo bombers disabled Admiral Turner’s command transport, the USS McCawley, which was later inadvertently sunk that night, probably by torpedoes from an American PT boat.
During the next few days, Japanese air attacks inflicted 150 casualties on Americans at the Rendova beachhead and destroyed several landing craft. Japanese cruisers and destroyers also moved through “The Slot,” the channel running between islands in the Solomons, at night to harass the beachhead however, the success of the Rendova landings was complete. Long-range artillery was in position to shell Munda airfield, although the Marines and soldiers on Rendova had to contend with the ceaseless rain, tenacious mud, and numerous treetop-level Japanese air attacks.
Rendova was secured on July 4, 1943. Halsey’s staff anticipated that after four days on Rendova sufficient men and matériel would be concentrated for an assault across Roviana Lagoon to Zanana Beach on the southeastern side of the Dragon Peninsula on July 4-5, to commence the direct invasion of New Georgia with a large-scale force at a site closer to Munda airfield than originally planned.
The Japanese staged air raids to counter the American invasion. Here, smoke from an exploding Japanese bomb drifts over a U.S. Army 155mm “Long Tom” gun on Rendova that was bombarding enemy positions on New Georgia.
General Sasaki was at Munda and observed firsthand the successful American landings at Rendova. The Japanese commander did not swiftly contest Halsey’s Rendova attack since he believed that the Americans were going to land at Lamberti Plantation or Munda Point itself.
However, on June 30, 1943, Sasaki personally observed two companies of the U.S. 169th Infantry Regiment occupying two islets, Baraulu and Sasavelle, on either side of Onaiavisi Entrance, the waterway leading from Blanche Channel into Roviana Lagoon and Zanana Beach. Sasaki concluded that Zanana Beach was where Halsey intended to land on New Georgia in strength.
Upon sighting the Americans on these islets, Sasaki ordered his outlying garrisons in eastern New Georgia to withdraw inland toward Munda, some 200 of whom were available to defend the airfield in mid-July through early August.
Halsey had placed U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John H. Hester, commander of the 43rd Infantry Division (a New England National Guard Unit), as commander of the New Georgia Occupation Force (NGOF). Hester’s mission, after moving from Rendova to Zanana Beach, was to march west to seize Munda airfield.
On July 3-5, Hester began ferrying troops over in landing craft or coastal transport vessels, Assault Purpose Destroyers (APDs) that were converted World War I destroyers, from Rendova to Zanana Beach. His landing force included major elements the 43rd Infantry Division’s 169th and 172nd Infantry Regiments, a battalion of Army field artillery, two battalions of Navy Seabees, a small detachment of the 1st Fiji Division, elements of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion, and other units of the Fleet Marine Force.
To assist isolating Munda airfield, Colonel Liversedge took 2,600 men of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, 1st Marine Raider Regiment along with the 3rd Battalion from each of the 145th and 148th Infantry Regiments of the 37th Division to occupy Rice Anchorage on the far western coast of New Georgia along Kula Gulf opposite Kolombangara.
With their tube at maximum elevation, a mortar crew from the 172nd Regiment, 43rd Infantry Division lobs rounds at a nearby Japanese machine-gun nest.
Although the 1st Marine Raider Regiment was originally composed of the 1st and 4th Raider Battalions, half of the 4th Raider Battalion was deployed along the south coast of New Georgia at Segi Point and Viru Harbor, while its other half was at Wickham Anchorage on the southeast coast of Vangunu Island. Liversedge’s formation was designated the Northern Landing Force.
Rice Anchorage was a swampy river delta northeast of the Japanese positions at Enogai Inlet and Bairoko Harbor. With the aid of native scouts and coastwatcher guides, approach routes to Enogai Inlet from Rice Anchorage were hacked out of the jungle.
After arriving unopposed, the Marines and soldiers were met with Japanese 140mm artillery shelling from Enogai, which scattered their naval landing force, leaving the Americans without supplies and isolated until Enogai could be taken. The capture of Enogai and the subsequent intended assault on Bairoko were to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing the Munda area through Bairoko Harbor from Vila on Kolombangara.
Liversedge’s force proceeded on an eight-mile overland march from Rice Anchorage that became a protracted three-day ordeal as the Americans had to traverse flooded jungle swamps and two rivers running high because of the torrential rainfall.
The Marines of the 1st Raider Battalion were to directly assault the Japanese garrison at Enogai on the western side of Enogai Inlet, while the two inexperienced Ohio National Guard battalions of the 37th Division were to secure the inland trails and communication routes in the vicinity.
The Japanese barge base at Enogai was defended by a garrison of 800 6th Kure SNLF troops. In addition, the enemy base had a battery of four 140mm rifled naval guns sited to command Kula Gulf Marine patrols had recovered the detailed plans for Enogai’s defense from dead Japanese soldiers.
After five days of sporadic jungle combat between company-sized forces, the Japanese positions at Enogai collapsed on July 10, the enemy survivors either having fled to Bairoko or having attempted to swim to small islands offshore in Kula Gulf under Marine gunfire from the shoreline.
The encounter left a casualty list of 48 dead Marine Raiders and nearly a hundred other casualties as Liversedge radioed for PBY Catalina flying boats to be dispatched to extricate the wounded. The dead Marines were buried at a small, improvised cemetery at Enogai.
In addition, there were resupply and reinforcement issues for the Army units of the 3rd Battalion, 145th Regiment, which was maintaining a blocking position on the Bairoko-to-Munda trail that was established to interdict Japanese reinforcements from the airfield. Disease, lack of rations, and near continuous jungle combat had reduced the battalion’s strength of 750 men by half.
Liversedge had to eventually abandon the trail block and ordered the surviving soldiers back to Triri, farther inland, to refit and prepare for the upcoming Bairoko assault.
The 1st Raider Battalion was reinforced with elements of the re-deployed 4th Raider Battalion, under Lt. Col. Michael S. Currin, which had landed at Enogai on July 18.
The remnants of both Marine Raider battalions continued on to the main enemy position at Bairoko Harbor and assaulted it from the north on July 20. The Army units were to mount a converging attack from Triri to the east using an inland trail leading to Bairoko. Smaller Army detachments remained to cover both the Triri and Rice Anchorage bases.
The Japanese defenses at Bairoko were fortified with a battalion-sized garrison in possession of 90mm mortars and pack artillery Marine 60mm mortars could not reduce the entrenched enemy positions. The Army units on inland trails made little headway against prepared enemy positions. Subsequently, the Raiders and Army units suffered grievously, the former accruing a 20 percent casualty rate through a lack of air support and absence of accurate artillery fire to reduce the Japanese bunkers.
Liversedge correctly feared that the enemy garrison at Bairoko would be heavily reinforced from Vila during the night of July 21. Finally, continued Japanese heavy mortar fire necessitated Liversedge’s withdrawal of the Northern Landing Force to Enogai. In the early hours of July 22, Liversedge radioed his superiors, “Request all available planes strike both sides Bairoko Harbor beginning 0900. You are covering our withdrawal.”
The Marines were dealt one of their few defeats in the South Pacific at Bairoko Harbor. The Japanese had held onto their barge base as the Northern Landing Force remained in possession of Enogai.
The Northern Landing Force’s mission to Bairoko was indeed bungled as it pitted green Army infantry battalions against a veteran enemy in horrific jungle terrain. Classic U.S. Army infantry tactics that had been taught at the war colleges fell apart when having to cross neck-deep waterways and walk in single file beneath the jungle canopy’s darkness.
Native soldiers of the 1st Commando, Fiji Guerrillas, under the command of New Zealanders, check weapons before heading out on patrol, July 26, 1943.
Unlike other infantry combat locales, requested air strikes to neutralize Japanese machine-gun positions impervious to light infantry weaponry and near ceaseless mortar barrages failed to materialize. The enervating march of these American troops unfortunately bore a striking resemblance to those of other inexperienced U.S. Army units that had fought the Japanese at Buna in northern Papua in late 1942.
Elsewhere along the eastern coast of New Georgia’s Dragon Peninsula, General Hester’s 169th and 172nd Infantry Regiments proceeded slowly out of the Zanana beachhead as separate advances toward the Barike River. The Japanese noted that both the weather and American tactical caution made the 43rd Division’s advance a time-consuming, tedious one. By July 7, the two regiments finally reached the Barike River.
After receiving more than 3,500 fresh 13th Infantry Regiment reinforcements from Kolombangara via Bairoko, General Sasaki deployed them along with the 229th Infantry Regiment and elements of the 230th Infantry Regiment, the latter having fought on Guadalcanal, for upcoming counterattacks against the Zanana beachhead.
Sasaki had interposed elements of the 13th Infantry Regiment between the American 169th and 172nd Regiments on the southern portion of the Dragon Peninsula on the night of July 7. The Japanese struck the forward battalions of the 169th Regiment, with many American infantry companies literally falling apart amid the six hours of undisciplined gunfire and grenade throwing. After the previous night’s enemy attack, the U.S. infantry regiments waited two additional days to prepare to launch their assault across the Barike River toward Munda to the southwest.
Hester unleashed a massive artillery barrage during the predawn hours of July 9 to herald his infantry’s advance. The Japanese lines west of the Barike River were also plastered with more than 2,000 rounds of 5-inch high-explosive (HE) shells from a task force of four U.S. Navy destroyers.
As the naval fire ebbed, five U.S. Army artillery battalions opened up. The heavy bombardment buoyed the American infantrymen’s spirits however, negligible damage was inflicted on the Japanese positions. American intelligence officers had little information as to where the enemy positions were or to what extent they were fortified. The movement of the two Army regiments, although on schedule, lacked aggressiveness, enabling the Japanese to remain in close contact with them while minimizing their exposure to the American artillery fire.
On July 10, five days after the landings at Zanana Beach, Hester’s staff had concluded that Sasaki’s forces were well entrenched in camouflaged coral and coconut log emplacements along the many hills leading to Munda. The NGOF would have to reduce these obstacles one at a time, often finding that others nearby were mutually supporting with an ample number of protected light and heavy machine guns screened by infantry in nearby rifle pits. Japanese mortars and light artillery pieces were well situated behind these defensive lines to wreak havoc on advancing American columns, and, in fact, stopped many units of the U.S. 169th Infantry Regiment in their tracks.
The colonel commanding this regiment and most of his staff were relieved of command by Hester and replaced by younger, more vigorous officers.
Hester realized that if he established a second beachhead at Laiana southwest of Zanana he could shorten his supply lines and assist his 169th Infantry Regiment’s advance considerably as it had fallen far behind the 172nd’s movement on its left flank. In fact, the 169th and 172nd Regiments were often out of contact with one another, enabling Japanese infiltrating units to harass the American supply lines and rear areas.
By the evening of July 13, the 172nd Infantry Regiment reached the Laiana area, but terrain, heat, and exhaustion compelled them to simply construct defensive positions for the night. The next day, the 43rd Division’s 3rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment landed at Laiana. In addition, tank lighters were offshore ready to disembark Marine M3 light tanks, six of which landed on July 15.
Three M3 “Stuart” light tanks of the Marine Defense Platoon advance near Munda airfield, August 6, 1943. Fanatical defenders knocked out several tanks before being overrun.
On July 17, Sasaki unleashed his bold counterattack against the American landing sites. Typical of the earlier fighting on Guadalcanal, poor Japanese inter-unit communication, thick jungle, and American defensive measures severely impeded the enemy counterattack.
Nonetheless, late on July 17, major elements of the 13th Japanese Infantry Regiment, under Colonel Satoshi Tomanari, marching from north of Munda turned the right flank of the U.S. 43rd Division, which was situated on the Barike River. The Japanese attacked the Zanana beachhead supply area and reached the American command post there, cutting the lines of communication to the 172nd Infantry Regiment to the southwest.
American artillery fire from the offshore islands of Roviana and Sasavele in Roviana Lagoon prevented the Japanese troops from organizing into their customary banzai charge. Together with a valiant defense by Marine and 172nd Infantry Regiment heavy weapons platoons, plus about 50 Army service (noncombatant) troops and artillerymen, the Japanese were prevented from overrunning Zanana beachhead.
By daylight, Tomanari was forced to halt his attack and order the regiment’s surviving troops to withdraw to Munda. The July 17 Japanese counterattack marked the last effort by Sasaki to mount an offensive against the American lines.
After the heroic beachhead defense, fresh reinforcements were needed. Maj. Gen. Robert S. Beightler brought his 145th and 148th Infantry Regiments (less their 3rd Battalions that had landed at Rice Anchorage as part of the Northern Landing Force) from Rendova to the battlefield to relieve the 172nd Infantry Regiment. As the bulk of the 169th Infantry Regiment was withdrawn to Rendova for rest and refitting, they were replaced by the 103rd and 161st Infantry Regiments from the 43rd and 25th Divisions, respectively, between July 18-22.
Due to the extremely slow American advance, Vice Admiral Halsey sent in Lt. Gen. Millard Harmon, South Pacific Ground Forces commander, to assess the situation. On July 14, Harmon ordered Maj. Gen. Oscar W. Griswold, commanding officer of U.S. XIVth Corps (comprised of both the 37th and 43rd Divisions), to take over the NGOF in mid-July, relieving Hester, who reverted back to command of the 43rd Infantry Division.
Griswold had observed that the 43rd Division’s 169th and 172nd Regiments were a spent force and unable to take Munda by themselves. Nonetheless, by July 23, Griswold had the remaining elements of the 37th and 43rd Divisions, the latter moved to the left flank, deployed on a 4,000-yard front. Griswold had previously recommended that the U.S. 25th Infantry Division be deployed to New Georgia to reinvigorate the stalled offensive.
Utilizing Marine M3 light tanks and Army infantry in support of the armor on July 24-25, 1943, progress was made as the American force moved toward the Lambeti Plantation on the southern coast of the Dragon Peninsula and occupied the Ilangana Peninsula southwest of Laiana. Both locales were stepping stones towards the ultimate prize, Munda airfield.
In this action, Marine M3 light tanks of the 10th and 11th Defense Battalions worked alongside the Army units that had become stalled on the jungle trails on the way to Munda. On July 26-27, the Marine tanks led an assault on Bartley Ridge, just northeast of the airfield, but suicidal Japanese infantry charges and well-camouflaged enemy 47mm antitank guns managed to disable or destroy some of the Marine armor.
On July 29, Maj. Gen. John R. Hodge replaced Hester as commander of the 43rd Division after the relatively poor showing by the 169th and 172nd Infantry Regiments. On August 1, advance elements of the 43rd Division exited from the jungle with the southern end of Munda airfield visible. Four days later, Munda airfield was captured. Many of the remaining Japanese defenders had resorted to holing up in caves in the Bibilo and Kokegolo Hills.
On August 5, Griswold reported to Halsey that organized resistance in the Munda area had ceased. His 30,000 American troops started mopping up operations against the Japanese survivors. Considerable effort by Navy Seabees was required to repair the badly damaged Munda airstrip to make it operational again for Marine Vought F4U Corsair fighters within 10 days of its capture.
On July 21, 1943, elements of Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins’ 25th Infantry Division landed at Zanana Beach and moved northwest. The 25th’s trek took it through the jungle and swamp on the Munda-Bairoko trail where Collins’ infantrymen were tasked with severing the supply route and path of retreat for any of the Japanese remaining on New Georgia who were not encircled in the Munda area.
A 43rd Division soldier uses an M2 flamethrower against a Japanese pillbox during fierce fighting near Munda airfield, September 9, 1943. The Japanese fought skillfully, forcing a stalemate at the airfield.
On August 9, a battalion of Collins’ 27th Infantry Regiment contacted patrols of Colonel Liversedge’s combined Army and Marine Northern Landing Force. The following day, Liversedge’s command was placed under the operational control of Collins’ division.
By the third week of August, both the 25th Division soldiers, along with the remaining Marine Raider and 37th Division Army units of Liversedge’s Northern Landing Force, began closing in on Bairoko Harbor. On August 24, Bairoko—an objective that eluded the Marine Raiders and soldiers from the 3rd Battalions of the 145th and 148th Regiments in their July 20-22 assault—fell to the Americans without combat. On August 29, the 1st Marine Raider Regiment embarked from Bairoko back to Guadalcanal.
The major ground fighting on New Georgia had ceased as General Sasaki skillfully evacuated the remainder of his Bairoko garrison across Kula Gulf to Kolombangara on the night of August 23, almost three weeks after the fall of Munda airfield.
The Japanese commander had previously hoped that with adequate reinforcements and supplies he could counterattack the Americans after establishing a new line on western New Georgia’s Kula Gulf coast from Bairoko Harbor to Sunday Inlet, the latter site bordering Hathorn Sound, the waterway that separated the Dragon Peninsula from nearby Arundel Island.
However, U.S. Navy interdiction of the Tokyo Express had made this plan implausible. On August 6, the Tokyo Express, laden with reinforcements from the Shortland Islands, was intercepted and many of the Japanese destroyer transports in the flotilla were sunk. As Sasaki was unable to receive any more reinforcements for New Georgia, he left the island for Kolombangara across Kula Gulf.
Sasaki was under a joint IJA/IJN directive dated on August 13 to hold out in the New Georgia group for as long as he could to enable Lt. Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, the 8th Area Army commander, to bolster the defenses of the northern Solomon Islands, especially Bougainville.
West of New Georgia’s Dragon Peninsula were the relatively flat and heavily jungle-clad central Solomons of Arundel and Wana Wana (also referred to as Vona Vona). These islands were directly south of Kolombangara with its Japanese airfield at Vila. Sasaki had previously wanted to use these islands as staging points to regain parts of western New Georgia following the loss of Munda airfield.
Elements of the American 37th Division, while attempting to clear parts of western New Georgia after the seizure of the Munda airfield, received artillery and small-arms fire from Baanga and Arundel Islands. Elements of the battle-scarred 43rd Infantry Division landed on Baanga Island on August 10 and secured it after 10 days of combat, with the few Japanese survivors escaping to Arundel and Kolombangara.
On August 11, Halsey ordered Griswold to move into position on Arundel Island and shell Vila airfield on Kolombangara. Arundel was separated from the west coast of New Georgia by the Hathorn Sound and Diamond Narrows waterways. The 172nd Infantry Regiment, 43rd Division invaded Arundel on August 27, opposed by a single company of the Japanese 229th Regiment that harassed the invaders principally by sniping and nocturnal infiltration to sever lines of communication.
Then, the intensity of the enemy resistance was heightened due to Sasaki’s orders to delay Halsey’s forces for as long as possible. On September 8, Sasaki sent a battalion from his 13th Infantry Regiment, under Major Kikuda, from Kolombangara to strengthen his forces on Arundel. The American advance was retarded by a series of enemy ambushes so that Japanese artillery on Arundel was able to shell the newly acquired American airfield at Munda Point.
Wading through deep water, American soldiers move slowly during the assault to capture one of New Georgia’s smaller islands, September 13, 1943.
The 172nd Regiment’s movement forward ceased two weeks after landing on Arundel, necessitating the deployment of elements of the 27th, 169th, and 103rd Infantry Regiments along with Marine tanks to secure the island from fanatical Japanese resistance.
However, the Japanese on Arundel were not resupplied due to continued U.S. Navy interdiction in the waters of Kula Gulf and Blackett Strait. Without supplies from Bougainville and the Shortland Islands, Sasaki, still on Kolombangara, sent the remainder of his 13th Infantry Regiment to Arundel on September 14 with the forlorn plan to attack Munda to capture foodstuffs.
Eventually, Sasaki ordered his Arundel defenders back to Kolombangara, which ended the fighting on Arundel on September 21. Sasaki lost more than 800 men on Arundel however, the Japanese held up the American advance for more than three weeks. This enabled General Imamura and Vice Admiral Jinichi Kusaka, commander of the 11th Air Fleet at Rabaul, who was also in charge of all naval units in the Solomons, to bolster the defenses of both Rabaul and Bougainville. American casualties on Arundel were approximately 300 men.
Originally, Halsey’s plan called for the attack against Munda to be followed by the seizure of Vila airfield on Kolombangara. Correct estimates of the considerable strength of the Japanese garrison on Kolombangara numbered just under 10,000 troops. Halsey did not want another protracted campaign to capture Vila, so he decided not to attack Kolombangara as a prelude to moving into the northern Solomons. Instead, the Americans bypassed the heavily defended Kolombangara and prevented its resupply by naval and aerial interdiction.
The South Pacific Force seized the lightly held island of Vella Lavella, just 15 miles northwest of Kolombangara. U.S. Navy intelligence estimates placed the Japanese garrison there at roughly 1,000 troops. Halsey’s staff reasoned that Vella Lavella, the northernmost island in the New Georgia group, provided a forward airfield at Barakoma that could aid in severing enemy supply runs to Kolombangara while also serving as a base for American air support for future operations in the northern Solomon Islands.
On August 15, 1943, a Northern Landing and Occupation Force of over 6,500 troops—composed of the 25th Division’s 35th RCT, the 58th Naval Construction Battalion, the Army’s 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Unit, and the 4th Marine Defense Battalion—landed virtually unopposed at Barakoma on the island’s southeast coast.
The Japanese had realized that to salvage the troops and equipment on Kolombangara they would need a nearby base Vella Lavella’s northern tip seemed a logical locale. To facilitate establishing a base there at Honaniu, two companies of the 13th Infantry Regiment and some SNLF troops had been landed there by armed barges on the night of August 17-18.
Halsey noted that the mopping up of the Japanese on Vella Lavella was not moving according to plan. So he brought in reinforcements—the 14th New Zealand Brigade of the 3rd New Zealand Division—which arrived on September 18, 1943, to complete the forcing of the enemy garrison into the northwest corner of the island with a two-pronged offensive commencing on September 24.
There was never any substantial ground combat on Vella Lavella because Japanese forces were both limited and in the process of withdrawing. However, the enemy harassed the Kiwis’ advance through the jungles of Vella Lavella to stall Halsey’s campaign and gain additional time to strengthen the Northern Solomon Islands.
Marine Raiders cross a stream during the advance on Enogai Point, August 1943. Extreme heat, humidity, disease, and a tough, well-camouflaged enemy took a heavy toll on American troops.
The sporadic fighting on Vella Lavella lasted until October 5-6, as the Japanese employed tenacious delaying tactics. The real struggle for Vella Lavella occurred with naval surface action and incessant aerial attacks on American shipping, which included more than 100 hundred enemy sorties from August 15 through September 3.
Halsey sent the Navy’s Seabees to Vella Lavella to restore the airfield at Barakoma. The intent was for American fighters with auxiliary fuel tanks to be stationed there for a roundtrip air assault on Rabaul.
The American admiral also established a Marine staging base on Vella Lavella for future attacks in the northern Solomons, such as the Marine parachutist raid on Choiseul in late October 1943. To accomplish this, elements of the I Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC) landed some units from the 3rd Marine Division at Ruravai farther up Vella Lavella’s eastern coast in mid-September.
On September 20-21, as General Sasaki withdrew his Arundel forces, he also moved his troops off Gizo Island eastward to Kolombangara, which would eventually have over 10,000 IJA and IJN troops.
U.S. Army troops warily approach suspected enemy positions on Arundel. The Japanese managed to evacuate a few hundred men from New Georgia before the U.S. declared the area secured.
Two days later, the planning for the Kolombangara garrison’s withdrawal began. It was Sasaki’s responsibility to get these troops evacuated safely from Kolombangara’s northern coastal points and bays. This was accomplished by Japanese destroyers that received landing barges laden with troops from Kolombangara. The evacuation commenced on September 28 during a moonless night and brought those troops to Choiseul, a six-hour northerly voyage across The Slot.
By the end of the first week of October, the Kolombangara withdrawal was complete despite attempts by U.S. Navy surface vessels to disrupt the evacuations. Those troops from Kolombangara who were not diverted to Choiseul were sent to either Bougainville or to Rabaul the evacuating Japanese troops from Vella Lavella were sent to the Shortland Islands off the southern coast of Bougainville.
General Sasaki had managed to maintain the integrity of his forces during both the combat on and skillful evacuations from the islands of the New Georgia group in the central Solomons. These Japanese forces were to soon fight Halsey’s northern advance again on the large northern Solomon Island of Bougainville from November 1, 1943, until the end of the Pacific War.
The American campaign for New Georgia and other islands in the central Solomon group from early July 1943 until the end of September was one the bloodiest fights in the South Pacific, although it has been overshadowed by the earlier six-month campaign on Guadalcanal. Halsey’s grueling advance on New Georgia, which was transformed into the keystone of Japanese defense in the central Solomons, culminated with the capture of Munda airfield.
However, this Marine and Army victory did not get the publicity that MacArthur’s New Guinea or Nimitz’s Central Pacific campaigns received. Instead, elite Marine Corps infantrymen, gunners, and tankers along with former National Guardsmen from New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., confronted the previously victorious Japanese troops amid a difficult climate and forbidding terrain, including fortified defensive positions often shielded from aerial assault by the extensive jungle canopy.
The victory on New Georgia and in the surrounding islands expanded the blueprint for success that was necessary in formulating the island-hopping strategy in the Solomon Islands and elsewhere in the Pacific Theater.
To the Last Man: The 103d Regimental Combat Team in the Pacific, 1942-1945
It was September 1941 when Sergeant Leroy Adams of the 152d Field Artillery Regiment pushed his section of 75mm guns up to knock out six enemy tanks that were threatening a nearby infantry company. It was his first time bringing artillery to the direct support of infantry. He did so, however, by use of blank fire, and the hits scored on the enemy tanks were done so with the use of flags held by umpires. Although much of the rest of the world was at war, the United States was still at peace.
Nevertheless, senior Army leaders like Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall realized that war was a serious prospect, and they launched what was to become the largest combined arms exercise in the history of the United States: the Louisiana Maneuvers. This event was meant to test the readiness of both active component forces and those of the National Guard and Organized Reserve. National Guard divisions from across the United States were mobilized for a period of one year for this exercise.
One such division was the 43d Infantry Division. Headquartered in Connecticut, the division was made up of units from Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The 103d Infantry Regiment and 152d Field Artillery Regiment, both of the Maine National Guard, assembled in the cities of Portland and Bangor on 24 February 1941 for the long trip down to Camp Blanding, Florida. The two units could not have conceived how long and how far this association would take them.
The 103d Infantry Regiment was one of the largest units in the Maine National Guard at the time. It claimed the lineage of the 2d Maine Volunteer Infantry, which compiled an impressive record through the first two years of the Civil War, serving in the Bull Run, Peninsula, Antietam, and Fredericksburg campaigns. In 1863, the regiment’s enlistments ran out, and the majority of the unit’s personnel were transferred to the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, where they would serve through the Gettysburg (where they defended a key position on Little Round Top), The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Appomattox campaigns. It was activated as the 2d Maine Infantry Regiment in 1916 for service on the U.S.-Mexican border. When it was called up for World War I, the 2d Maine was reorganized and designated the 103d Infantry Regiment. The 103d sailed to France in 1917 as part of the 26th “Yankee” Division and fought in the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne campaigns. In 1922, it was consolidated with the 3d Maine Infantry Regiment, given the permanent designation of the 103d Infantry, and assigned to the 43d Division.
Gunners of Battery C, 152d Field Artillery Battalion, fire their 105mm howitzer during combat operations around Aitape, New Guinea, 4 August 1944. (National Archives)
Compared to the 103d, the 152d Field Artillery Regiment was a relatively new formation. Organized in northern Maine in 1921, the regiment received its federal recognition in 1922 at Houlton, Maine. The regiment added a second battalion in 1929, with new batteries in Bangor and Brewer. In 1933, the regiment transitioned from horse-drawn artillery to motorized guns, although they still maintained their M1897 French 75s.
Both units arrived at Camp Blanding in the middle of March 1941, to the disappointing discovery that the camp was little more than a tent city. The units’ activity picked up, as the Army’s plan for retraining National Guard divisions commenced. The units spent weeks training in basic soldier skills such as marching, physical fitness, and marksmanship. As time went on, their ranks swelled with replacements from across the United States as the Army attempted to bring the National Guard divisions up to full strength. The two Maine units then traveled to Louisiana to take part in large-scale maneuvers with Regular Army forces and reserve component units.
Maneuvers soon began upon the 103d Infantry and 152d Field Artillery’s arrival, first at the company and regimental level, but later with divisions and corps. During one such maneuver, the 103d found itself bested by troops from the 31st “Dixie” Division, causing local papers to report, “Once again the rebel yell sounded through the Louisiana woods as the Southerners pushed back the Yankees from Maine.” The commander of the 103d, Colonel Spaulding Bisbee, counterattacked. He “dismounted his regiment and made a night march through the nearby woods and swamps, hitting the rebels in the rear, routing them and ‘capturing’ so many prisoners the 103d didn’t know what to do with them.” Reportedly, corps staff was in disbelief that any unit would be crazy enough to make a forced march in the middle of the night through woods and swamps.
By 1 August, the 43d Division was en route to Dry Prong, Louisiana. It was there that Army staff had determined to test their new war machine. New Army doctrine concerning division force structure, use of armor, anti-tank warfare, combined arms operations, and air-to-ground support were all on the table to be reviewed. Marshall oversaw the planning while Major General Lesley J. McNair, as General Headquarters Chief of Staff, oversaw the exercises. Other famous names graced the maneuvers, such as Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, Major General George S. Patton, and Lieutenant Colonel Omar N. Bradley. These leaders were given a chance to showcase their planning and combat capabilities during the maneuvers. The war games encompassed a “battlefield” of 30,000 square miles, from Jasper, Texas, to the Mississippi River, with a force of 472,000 troops assembled for the maneuvers.
For the Guardsmen, much of the maneuvers were senseless marches back and forth with little tactical value. Occasionally there were moments of clarity, such as when Sergeant Leroy Adams of the 152d was called on to provide direct fire support to an embattled infantry company. By the rules of the maneuvers, any infantry unit within one hundred yards of a hostile tank was considered neutralized. However, a .50 caliber machine gun was considered an anti-armor weapon. Thus, when Sergeant Adams brought up his gun section to act as an anti-tank unit, he had his trucks roll in first, firing their .50 caliber heavy machine guns steadily until the artillery could be set up.
Corporal Raymond A. King of the 152d Field Artillery Battalion operates a fire control switchboard at the 103d Infantry’s regimental command post on Luzon, 18 January 1945. (National Archives)
Rules such as this and many others caused some dissatisfaction amongst soldiers during the maneuvers. It also caused innovation at all levels, especially for bending the confusing rules. One anecdote tells of a corporal coming upon a bridge that had been “destroyed” by an enemy attack bridges could not actually be destroyed, so they were instead manned by a sentry holding a flag signifying that the bridge was not passable. The corporal hesitated a moment and then began to march his men across it. The sentry indignantly yelled, “Hey, don’t you see that bridge is destroyed?” “Of course I can see it’s destroyed,” replied the corporal, “Can’t you see we’re swimming?”
Notwithstanding the confusion and irregularities in the rules, the maneuvers were deemed by General Headquarters to be a resounding success. They exposed weaknesses and vulnerabilities that forced the Army to make tactical and technical changes prior to the war. The Louisiana Maneuvers concluded on 2 October 2 1941 and the 43d Division headed back to Camp Blanding. They would not remain there long, moving to additional maneuvers in the Carolinas from 28 October to 3 December. Emphasis was made in training on infantry-artillery cooperation and use of forward observers for ensuring accurate artillery fire.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, the 43d Division’s mission changed drastically as training for combat began. In addition, the Army implemented a massive reorganization among its divisions. The 43d had been what was called a “square” division comprised of four infantry regiments with two brigade headquarters. It was reorganized into a “triangular” division of three regiments the two brigade headquarters were inactivated. This reorganization befell the 43d when it arrived in Camp Shelby, Mississippi on 14 February 1942. The division now became the 43d Infantry Division.
For the 152d Field Artillery, the change was more dramatic. The revision did away with field artillery regiments, replacing them with battalions as the basic organizational formation. On 19 February, the regimental headquarters battery was designated the 203d Field Artillery Group and removed from the division. 1st Battalion, 152d Field Artillery, was re-designated the 203d Field Artillery Battalion and relieved from the 43d. Both of these units would see significant combat action in the European Theater of Operations. 2d Battalion was re-designated the 152d Field Artillery Battalion and paired with the 103d Infantry to form the 103d Regimental Combat Team (RCT).
The 103d RCT began their movement towards the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) on 3 September 1942. The first stop was Fort Ord, California, where they received new equipment (105mm howitzers for the 152d) and conducted additional training before boarding troop ships on 1 October, bound for New Zealand. It was a relief to all when the convoy arrived in Auckland on 22 October. As the 103d RCT offloaded, a band of New Zealanders played the “Maine Stein Song,” the unofficial march of the 103d. The newly arrived U.S. soldiers then settled in at Mangere Crossing, south of the city, building a tent city for their three week stay in New Zealand.
A Japanese mortarman captured by the 103d Infantry on Luzon points out Japanese positions to Major General Leonard P. Wing (center), commanding general of the 43d Infantry Division, and Colonel Joseph P. Cleland, commanding officer of the 103d, 17 March 1945. (National Archives)
The 103d RCT embarked for the island of New Caledonia during the first week of November. This would be their home until February 1943 and was the “jumping off” point for their participation in the PTO. As the New Year dawned, the 103d RCT underwent amphibious landing training. On 11 February, the 152d was transported to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The 103d followed two days later.
On Guadalcanal, the soldiers of the 103d RCT saw firsthand the destruction of war: wrecked vehicles, shredded trees, and shell-pocked beaches. They listened to the stories from the Marines who had gone through heavy combat to take the island. Shortly after they arrived, the men of the 103d tasted war for the first time as Japanese bombers struck on 17 February, waking men from their sleep in a panic. Guadalcanal had been seized to open up the rest of the Solomons to U.S. forces. The next target was to be the island of New Georgia, and Allied leaders selected the 43d as the division for the job.
Before assaulting New Georgia, the 103d first had to gain a foothold on the nearby island of Banika to give the U.S. forces a staging area. That island, as well as the adjacent Pavavu, would be built up as supply staging points and air bases. The 103d Infantry landed two battalions on Banika on 21 February, seizing the island with no difficulty as the Japanese had abandoned it days earlier. Work immediately began on the construction of an airfield.
The Japanese had their own fighter base on Munda, New Georgia, from which they flew harassing flights against the U.S. invaders as well as interdiction flights against U.S. aircraft. The airfield at Munda was the main objective for the 43d Division. To get there, the following waypoints were laid out: Rendova Island, Viru Harbor, Segi Point, and Wickham Anchorage. Rendova was to be the command and control point for the division headquarters. Prior to the invasion of Rendova, a strong reconnaissance party of staff officers and artillery observers led by native guides infiltrated the island, slipping past Japanese defenders. They planned and mapped enemy positions, suitable landing areas, and possible firing points for artillery.
The 103d was split into its three battalions for this operation. Companies A and D, with elements of the 4th Marine Raider Battalion, seized the as-yet unoccupied Segi Point on 22 June, in an unplanned offensive to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing the island. The rest of the regiment began its operations on 30 June, with the rest of 1st Battalion (1-103 INF) landing at Segi Point, 2d Battalion (2-103 INF) striking Wickham Anchorage, and 3d Battalion (3-103 INF) moving to Rendova to act as division reserve. The position at Segi was quickly consolidated, with Battery A, 152d Field Artillery Battalion (A-152d FAB), landing and setting up fire support positions. Battery B, 152d Field Artillery Battalion (B-152 FAB) accompanied 2-103 INF Infantry to Wickham, setting up firing positions in the thick island mud that the Wickham position was rapidly turning into. Battery C, 152d Field Artillery Battalion (C-152 FAB) would land on Rendova on 2 July to provide fire support from the island.
Offensive movements began at all points on New Georgia. The infantry began to maneuver inland, hampered by bad weather, dense jungle, and a heavily dug-in enemy. The Japanese had carefully selected their primary, secondary, and tertiary defensive positions, concealing their pillboxes in natural-looking emplacements. These defensive positions provided overlapping fields of fire for rifles and machine guns, making U.S. infantry assaults a bloody endeavor. Like the rest of the division artillery, the 152d began extensive fire missions, with limited results due to Japanese movements. When U.S. artillery began to rain down on them, the Japanese would move their troops close to the American lines, and when U.S. artillery would begin protective fires, the Japanese would fire 90mm mortars to make U.S. soldiers think their own artillery was firing short. This degraded the infantry’s trust in their own artillery at a time when they needed it the most. Continued operations would restore this trust.
After occupying Segi Point and relieving the Marines at Viru Harbor, 1-103 INF carried out defensive operations for the remainder of the operation. It took four days for 2-103 INF, Marines, and B-152d FAB to push out all the Japanese from Wickham. Company G ambushed enemy reinforcements attempting a nighttime landing, killing nearly eighty Japanese soldiers. The 103d consolidated its positions, established patrols, and continued mopping up the enemy. The 169th and 172d Infantry Regiments were slogging through tough enemy resistance as they drove overland for Munda Point. The fighting resembled a World War I battle, with advances prefaced with artillery barrages and progress measured in yards.
3-103 INF was brought up on 14 July to reinforce the 169th and 172d Regiments and took part in the slow advance against Munda. By the 19 July, the troops from the 103d were leading the attack due to heavy casualties in the 172d Infantry. The same conditions, however, that had broken the 172d came to bear on 3-103 INF: heavy casualties from repeated attacks, incessant indirect fire, and harassing night attacks. Combat stress was taking a severe toll on the front-line units. To break through the Japanese resistance, 2-103 INF was landed next to 3-103 INF on 22 July. From 25-29 July, the 103d made repeated attacks against the Japanese lines, gaining only yards and taking heavy losses.
Artillerymen of the 152d Field Artillery Battalion prepare to fire their 105mm howitzer in support of 2d Battalion, 103d Infantry, during fighting on Vangunu, New Georgia, 30 June 1943. (National Archives)
The Japanese were not merely passive observers they mounted a counterattack on 25 July and caught the division command post relatively undefended. Captain Harold Slager of the 152d caught wind of the advance and shadowed the enemy, radioing back reports until he was killed by enemy machine gun fire. As the Japanese closed on the command post, divisional artillery opened with close protective fires called in by forward observers from the command post, including the division artillery commander. This barrage continued all night to prevent enemy approach and proved successful in keeping the command post safe until reinforcements could be landed.
The 152d FAB took part in these fires, but their priority was direct support of the 103d as it fought pillbox-to-pillbox on Munda. The RCT was learning quickly to adapt. The 103d would pull back from its lines into a smokescreen provided by the 152d, and then the artillery would register fires on the Japanese position. The Japanese would then move forward to the 103s’d former lines, thinking they were still there, at which time the 152d would fire for effect on the regiment’s former position. It was adaptations such as this, as well as direct fires on enemy pillboxes, that allowed for a breakthrough on 1 August. Munda Airfield was in U.S. hands by 5 August.
The month-long campaign had been brutal to both sides. During the fighting on New Georgia, the 43d Division experienced a higher number of “war neurosis” (what would be now termed post traumatic stress) cases than almost any other division in the war. The never-ending attacks to gain yards, the nighttime harassment, and the heavy casualties had sapped the infantry’s morale to the breaking point. Reports from the few captured Japanese indicated a similar situation: continued and random U.S. artillery fire had shattered the nerves of defenders. Soldiers from both sides suffered from the excessive heat and rain, disease, insect bites, and the fear of the unknown presented by the jungle.
On 8 August, the 103d RCT took a defensive position in reserve on New Georgia and the Russell Islands for a badly needed rest. They remained in place until 17 February 1944, when they rotated back to New Zealand for additional jungle training and to incorporate replacements. In June, the 43d Division was transferred to the Southwest Pacific Command in order to begin the New Guinea Campaign.
The 103d RCT landed on the island of Aitape in New Guinea on 22 July to contain a desperate enemy counter-attack. However, this counter-attack did not strike the 103d, and their participation in this campaign consisted of continuous patrols and skirmishes in defensive positions. The 152d FAB was briefly detached in support of two other units where it gained experience in patrolling, learned the importance of using smoke to mark targets, and tested new radio equipment. The 152d also experimented with the use of Piper Cub observation planes, a practice that was retained for the Luzon campaign.
General Douglas MacArthur had promised a return to the Philippines, and he made good on his promise early in October 1944 when Sixth Army landed on Leyte Island. On 9 January, a vast armada assembled in Lingayen Gulf off the island of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. U.S. naval gunfire and air attacks pummeled the beachhead for hours prior to the landing. The 103d RCT was to move quickly inland, seizing the towns of San Fabian, San Jacinto, and Manaog before reaching their final objective, Hill 200. Hill 200 was a high point approximately ten miles inland that dominated the surrounding area. The terrain was not like the jungle of New Georgia, but was made up of rice paddies and undulating ridges.
The 103d Infantry went ashore at 0700, with the 152d following at 1300 to set up firing positions on the beach. The landing was unopposed and the regiment moved inland by column of battalions, with 3d in the lead, followed by 2d, and 1st in support. As the day went on, Japanese resistance began to increase. Using 75mm guns, the Japanese would initiate long-range ambushes on the 103d, retreating when approached by riflemen. This delaying tactic did not inflict many casualties, but it did slow the regiment’s advance. The next day saw the 103d making good time but it was still slowed by harassing enemy attacks. Riflemen, acting in conjunction with artillery fire, steadily advanced and destroyed several of the Japanese guns.
Everything changed on the morning of 11 January, when 2-103 INF began the assault on Hill 200. It was a heavily fortified position, with caves, tunnels, and trenches dug into the hillside for both infantry and artillery. It took five days of brutal fighting to take the hill, characterized by heavy supporting fire from the 152d FAB, the 105mm howitzers in the 103d’s Cannon Company, and the 103d’s organic mortars. The rest of the battalion worked on securing the perimeters around the hill with aggressive patrolling, which sparked intense fighting. By 16 January, Hill 200 and its environs were in U.S. hands. An enemy armored counterattack in the vicinity of barrio Potpot resulted in a long night for the men of 3-103d INF, as they fought off the attack and destroyed eleven Japanese tanks.
On 17 January, the 103d RCT set off against its next objective, Hill 600. Similar in toughness to Hill 200, Hill 600 would bleed the 103d considerably over the next few days. On 21 January, Japanese artillery struck a forward command post during a meeting of 3-103 INF’s officers, killing or wounding all the battalion’s company commanders. The 152d FAB was providing direct support to the infantry, while taking counter-battery fire as well as ongoing attempts by Japanese infiltration teams to sabotage its guns. As pronounced by division commander, Major General Leonard F. Wing, the battalion distinguished itself by never slacking in fire support while conducting aggressive patrolling to interdict enemy teams. The 152d alone killed fifty-four enemy personnel with small arms fire during their patrols during this phase.
The struggle for Hill 600 continued, bringing in various other 43d Division units and ranging over onto Hills 700 and 800. Fighting continued for days, with both sides denying the other the summit of Hill 600 but neither had sufficient strength to occupy it. Both sides’ artillery pounded the infantry mercilessly. By the end of the month, the lines had stabilized into a stalemate of sorts, as U.S. troops began patrols to root out outlying Japanese positions and find targets for the artillery. On 15 February, the 103d came off the front lines after thirty-eight days of consecutive combat, having taken 724 casualties. The 152d FAB had expended 27,223 rounds of high explosive shells during this same period.
The 103d RCT remained in reserve to rest and refit until 9 March, when it moved to Wac Wac Country Club, on the outskirts of Manila, to reinforce the 1st Cavalry Division. They then began an offensive against a portion of the Shimbu Line, a series of defended hills and ridges outside Manila. By 17 March, the 103d had taken advantage of weak points in the line, overrunning three enemy ridge systems, and holding sixteen square miles of enemy territory. Now that they had denied the enemy an approach to Manila, the 103d RCT continued its forward movement, neutralizing enemy positions. On 21 March, they captured the 1,200 foot Mount Tanauan, breaking the Japanese line and sending the survivors in headlong retreat. During this operation, the infantrymen of the 103d had to scale the cliffs of the mountain and fight cave-to-cave with the Japanese. With infantry and artillery working in very close cooperation, the 103d RCT had outflanked the Japanese position by 29 March, taking forty-four square miles and killing 798 of the enemy, with losses of only thirty-three killed.
Soldiers of 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry Regiment, gather in a bomb crater during a pause in the fighting for New Georgia, 9 August 1943. (National Archives)
The 103d RCT was pulled off the line on 1 April and moved to the Laguna de Bay region east of Manila, where it was to establish a blocking position to divide the enemy forces still on Luzon. The move was conducted under cover of darkness and as silently as possible. Motorized transports moved the infantry and artillery into their positions in the mountain pass of San Miguel. On 4 April, the 103d Infantry attacked and completely surprised the enemy to their front, taking the entire San Miguel Valley by noon. The last remaining road that the enemy could use to regroup had been secured by 6 April. From this time until the end of the month, the 103d occupied various positions in the region, conducting patrols and disrupting enemy plans for a counter-attack around the New Bosoposo region. The 152d FAB’s use of reconnaissance by fire helped break up enemy formations trying to converge for an attack.
Following their successes against the Shimbu Line, the 103d RCT was moved to secure the Ipo Dam, outside Manila, in order to maintain the city’s critical water supply. Manila was on the verge of a health crisis from lack of water because of recent and brutal battle to capture the city. The seizure of the Ipo Dam would restore thirty percent of the city’s water. The 103d Infantry set off in another night attack on 6 May, meeting such little resistance that they blitzed straight forward through the difficult terrain without halting until 11 May. They were only two miles from the dam and, unbeknownst to them, were in a race with a regiment of friendly Filipino guerillas to reach it first. The 103d seized two hills over the next two days, digging in at night, and repulsing a suicidal attack by the Japanese defenders on 14 May.
The 152d FAB followed close behind, over roads bulldozed from division engineers. During this fast advance, most enemy artillery positions were not within direct line of sight to the infantry on the ground, so the 152d’s observation planes were the only practical way to spot targets. The artillerymen found that using high-angle fire in the rocky terrain was especially effective. The 103d reached the dam on 17 May, as did the guerillas, sparking a debate over who was first to the dam that would last for years after the war. Regardless, the 103d RCT had seized the Ipo Dam intact, accomplishing their mission. The American and Filipino advance came so quickly that despite preparing the dam for demolition, the Japanese did not have time to detonate the explosive charges they had set to destroy it.
Although they did not know it, this would be the last major operation for the 103d RCT, so it was fitting that the 103d Infantry and 152d FAB completed the capture of the dam together. An interrogation of Japanese Private Tetsuo Inouye, who was captured by troops from the 103d on 17 May, revealed how effective the infantry and artillery of the 103d RCT were when acting in concert: “Artillery caused the loss of about one third of the Battalion. Because of the fear of an attack by infantry right after or during the artillery bombarding, the Japanese stayed out in the open and thus suffered casualties.”
Acting in concert, the 103d Infantry and the 152d FAB made a formidable pair. After the brutal blooding they experienced on New Georgia, both units learned the important of fire and maneuver, as evidenced by their performance in the later campaign on Luzon. Elements of the 152d operated close in on the infantry’s position, usually only a mile or so behind the front lines. Forward observers from the artillery accompanied each infantry battalion in every operation, and liaison officers from the artillery served in the infantry battalions’ staff. Infantry officers learned from their forward observers and began adjusting fires themselves. The 103d RCT also learned how important cooperation on all levels could be. The 152d advised the Cannon Company, 103d Infantry, on techniques and procedures for gunnery. This resulted in the Cannon Company participating in over two hundred fire missions with the 152d. In return, artillerymen learned patrolling techniques from the infantry. The effectiveness of this 152d’s training resulted in several hundred enemy soldiers killed or captured during patrols conducted by the artillerymen.
The 103d RCT moved back to the rear in June, to rest and refit in preparation for the invasion of Japan. The 43d Infantry Division was to establish a beachhead on Ariake Wan and seize the airfields for U.S. use. Fortunately, it was not to be. Rumors of the impending Japanese surrender swept through the 103d RCT’s camps on 7 August, the day after an atomic bomb devastated the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The news of the surrender of Japan on 15 August was followed quickly by orders for the occupation of Japan. The 103d RCT was assigned to the occupation forces, arriving in Japan on 13 September. They were posted in the vicinity of Tokyo and had only just settled down into their role as occupiers when they received the long-awaited orders to return home. On 29 September, the 103d RCT boarded troop ships for San Francisco, arriving on 9 October 1945. From there, the units were inactivated and the men returned home.
This was not the end of the story for either unit. In fact, they continued their association as the 103d RCT of the Maine Army National Guard when they got home. Both were destined to see significant changes to their organizations, with the artillery becoming an anti-aircraft battalion and the infantry transferring to an armored role, both reflecting the changing tactical situation. Both units were fated to have their lineage and honors carried on by one unit, the 133d Engineer Battalion, which continues to the present day.
Artist Howard Cook’s Brush With Death in the South Pacific
I n 1943, artist Howard Cook traded the desert of his Taos, New Mexico, home for the jungle when he accepted a six-month assignment to lead the U.S. Army’s War Art Unit in the South Pacific. Cook, then 41, was an acclaimed printmaker, magazine illustrator, and painter—but at Camp Barnes in Noumea, New Caledonia, he and his fellow artists were treated like run-of-the-mill military men: “We got a good taste of what it feels like to slave and sweat in the steaming stink of a jungle and can well imagine what it means to die or lie wounded in the…slimy mud,” the artist wrote to his wife, Barbara.
Cook accompanied the 43rd Infantry Division on missions throughout the region, sketching soldiers at rest and at war. While participating in the assault task force and landing on Rendova Island and on New Georgia’s Munda Point, both in the Solomons, the artist experienced his first air raid huddled in a foxhole, Cook could hear “the short rat-tats of machine-gunning” and “the roar of bombers” as they “came down over and lay their eggs in our midst.”
Initially fascinated with the South Pacific (“the country is a painter’s paradise,” he observed), Cook grew fatigued with combat and left the War Art Unit early on medical discharge. The artist insisted he wouldn’t trade his formative experiences for “anything in the world”—but the comforts of civilian life beckoned. “Don’t worry about my wanting excitement when I return,” Cook wrote to Barbara. “I will just want to curl up in a hot dusty corner in the sun and take it easy for a while.” ✯
A weary Cook digs his second foxhole of the day on Rendova Island (above). The artist’s fatigue was soon replaced by terror, as later captured in a haunting air raid self-portrait (header).
Training completed in San Francisco, Cook set sail for Camp Barnes in Noumea, New Caledonia, aboard the USS Tjizadane. He painted a dramatic watercolor called Firing From the After Gun Turret while passing Fiji.
Burrowed deep into the mud, Cook sketched from a foxhole as men emerged after an air raid. He rarely drew while in direct combat yet chose to in this case, noting his hiding place at the sketch’s bottom.
“A solid green mess” is how Cook referred to the South Pacific’s jungles in a particularly evocative letter. Japanese soldiers could easily fire on their enemies using the dense forest as cover “the front is all over the place and is always hidden,” Cook told his wife.
Cook and his fellow artists ate standard military grub dinner sometimes included treats like fresh fruit, vegetables, and ice cream. In Jungle Rations, Cook drew a soldier settled down for a quick meal.
“We get bored as hell” between battles, Cook wrote. At right he captured a quiet moment: two men in camp headquarters, one writing a letter, the other hunched over a typewriter. Cook scrawled reference notes for color in the margins in case he later chose to work these images into a painting.
Cook sketched multiple South Pacific islands the ink-and-paper work below is of navy ships off New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. Other far-flung destinations Cook visited include the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and Phoenix islands.
On his way home in September 1943, Cook sketched military personnel aboard the B-24 Liberator bomber transporting him, including a dozing crewman from the 69th Bomb Squadron.
His finished painting is called "The Ship-Bomber’s Homecoming." The three-day trip included stops in Fiji, Kanton Island, Hawaii, and San Francisco Cook’s writings describe the men huddling together with one another to keep warm in the cold sky.
This story was originally published in the October 2019 issue of World War II magazine. Subscribe here.
World War II Pictures In Details
I attended Mr. Root's funeral mass last night at All Saints on the Hudson church in Mechanicville NY. He was my grandparents neighbor for fifty years. Nice man, nice family. rest in peace sir.
Will Root's brother Tom also served in the same unit. They grew up and joined up from Castleton, Vermont. There were seven or eight, or nine all together that all joined up at the same time from Castleton, before the war started upon President Roosevelt's call for beefing up the services prior to Pearl Harbor. My father, Charles M. Brough (Castleton, Vt,) was one of the group that all joined together. They were on the Attack Transport S.S. Coolidge which was sunk by mines off Espiritu Santo Island on their arrival in theater. They fought at Guadalcanal, Northern Solomons, New Guinea, Philippines. My father was wounded badly at Ipo Dam, outside Manila.
My Uncle, PFC Maurice Gibault was also in Company "A" 43rd/172nd with his brother Edgar. Maurice was killed 12 July 43 New Georgia and Edgar was wounded but not sure where. Paper says Rendova?
My grandfather, Frank Cooper Chief Electrician Mate CEM, was in the first wave onto Rendova with Company B of the 24th Navy Construction Battalion along with the 172nd Army team and the 9th Marine Battalion as the amphibious attack group of Task Force No. 31.