Chapter 5: Three Island Actions
I: Vella Lavella
IMPENDING operations were discussed by Barrowclough on 10 September with Rear-Admiral T. S. Wilkinson, commander of Task Force 31,1 the naval organisation responsible for getting all units ashore in amphibious operations and their protection en route, and Major-General Barrett,2 commander of the First Marine Amphibious Corps, at their headquarters on Guadalcanal, and at the same time tactfully ended their tendency to plan forward moves without consulting him about his own formations. The following day he flew to Munda to confer with Major-General O. W. Griswold, 14 US Corps Commander, whose troops, exhausted by three island operations, were to be relieved on Vella Lavella. Potter and Brooke accompanied him and continued the journey to Vella, remaining there until the force came forward. Meanwhile, valuable information was being gathered by a party from 14 Brigade consisting of Lieutenant D. G. Graham, Sergeants H. B. Brereton, L. V. Stenhouse and M. McRae,3 who had gone forward on 28 August with Major C. W. H. Tripp and Captain D. E. Williams,4 of the South Pacific Scouts (Fijian), to work with patrols in Japanese-held territory until the brigade took over from the Americans, after which the Fijian scouts were withdrawn and returned to Guadalcanal. Twenty-one officers representing all units of 14 Brigade, who moved north via Munda on 13 September as an advanced party to select bivouac areas, had their first practice in evasive tactics when their open craft was attacked by enemy dive-bombers off
Maravari Beach two days later. Barrowclough went north on 17 September, travelling by air to Munda and completing the journey late that night by motor torpedo boat from Rendova, the operational base for those craft, which have a speed of 40 knots. Duff, the CRA, Burns of Signals, and Bennett, AA and QMG, accompanied him and all were on the beach the following morning to meet the landing craft.
As the division moved on to Guadalcanal in September, formations of Griswold's 14 Corps were driving the last of the Japanese from Arundel and Vaaga Islands and sites along the north coast of New Georgia, forcing them to retreat to Kolombangara, a few miles north. Munda airfield, finally secured after protracted and stub-born fighting two days less than a year after the landing on Guadalcanal, was in operation, though subject to nightly bombing raids. Plans to attack Kolombangara were discarded by the South Pacific Command on 12 July in favour of by-passing that island and landing on the more lightly held Vella Lavella, where suitable territory existed behind Barakoma Beach for the construction of an airfield to aid in the next thrust forward. This had been surveyed by a party of American specialists, who landed under cover of darkness and spent several days there before being taken off again. An American force 4600 strong, consisting of 35 Infantry Regiment, 4 Marine Defence Battalion, and one battalion of 145 Infantry Regiment (a later reinforcement) landed on Vella on 15 August and drove the Japanese garrison into the north of the island, where they were holding out and awaiting relief along the coastal region between Paraso Bay and Mundi Mundi. An American engineer construction battalion, the 58th, known as CBs (units for which the New Zealanders developed profound admiration) immediately began clearing a swampy area of jungle for the airfield, and a naval base had been established at Biloa, on the southern tip of the island, where the only remaining evidence of a former mission station consisted of pieces of concrete foundations and a few flowering shrubs. A motor torpedo boat base was operating from an unsatisfactory site off Laipari Island, opposite Biloa. Night-raiding aircraft hindered the construction of the airfield, and attempted to destroy petrol dumps and the torpedo boats which were harrying Japanese barge traffic at night round Kolombangara and smaller islands. Sites at Kimbolia for a radar station and at Lambu Lambu for a more effective motor torpedo boat base were urgently required on the northern coast to assist in the next operations—the capture of the Treasury Group and a beach-head on Bougainville—and for this reason Vella Lavella was to be made secure.
The main Japanese force had been established in this region in defensive positions at Horoniu and Boko, but had been driven out by the Americans on 14 September. It consisted of remnants of several units, including 290 army and 100 navy personnel, who landed at Horoniu on the morning of 19 August after eluding an action in which their covering destroyers were attacked by an American naval force in Vella Gulf on the night of 17 August (two days after the American landing farther south) and approximately 190 army and 120 navy survivors from naval engagements on the night of 6–7 August, when three Japanese destroyers were sunk in almost as many minutes. These were joined by others from observation posts and staging barge bases on the island, and scattered survivors from barges sunk on 25 September, but there was no co-ordinated command as an officer detailed to take charge of the Japanese garrison never arrived. When the main position at Horoniu was overwhelmed they scattered to the north. Patrols of Fijian scouts, accompanied by 14 Brigade non-commissioned officers, had been through the northern region observing the Japanese but with orders not to attack them. Estimates of enemy strength ranged from 500 to 700, established in small groups at Timbala Bay, their radio station and lookout post, Warambari Bay, Tambama and Varuasi, and armed with mortars, machine guns, rifles, and grenades. These patrols received valuable assistance and information from a coastwatcher, Lieutenant H. E. Josselyn, RANVR, who had been hidden on the island for several weeks.
Approximately 3700 troops of the division, principally 14 Brigade units and elements of headquarters, disembarked on the beaches soon after dawn on 18 September. After loading and practising disembarkation for two days at Kukum and Kokumbona beaches, they travelled north in a convoy of six APDs, six LSTs, and six LCIs, escorted by eleven destroyers. During the brief voyage troops voted in the New Zealand Parliamentary elections and watched from blacked-out ships the fiery spectacle of a Japanese air raid on Munda.
With only a limited time in which to clear the ships, disembarkation began with speed at Barakoma, Maravari, and Uzamba beaches as Japanese lookouts on Kolombangara, only thirteen miles across the water, could observe the landing. High overhead in the clear sunshine an umbrella of aircraft circled in anticipation of attack as men and ships went ashore to a disciplined schedule. As the ramps of the massive LSTs clattered down, trucks, bulldozers, and guns rolled out and bumped into the jungle and mud. Bulldozers tore down palms and trees, gathering them into their shining blades to form causeways to the ramps of the heavier craft which remained
in water too deep for vehicles to negotiate. Waist deep in the water, men passed crated stores and equipment from ship to shore, stacking them out of sight among the trees. Petrol, oil, and ammunition also disappeared into the jungle, which grew almost to the water's edge. The APDs, lying in deeper water, were cleared in half an hour. By noon the Japanese air attack developed, but by that time the valuable landing craft, which were never over plentiful, lay far from the shore, herded together by the destroyers in readiness for the return journey. Seven of the Japanese aircraft were brought down in a dogfight which ended as quickly as it began, but no damage was done to troops or equipment.
Divisional Headquarters was established in tents deep in the jungle behind Barakoma Beach, and over the primitive road which gave access to this gloomy site trucks pushed heavily laden jeeps
out of the evil-smelling mud all day long. Fourteenth Brigade moved farther up the coast and opened its headquarters on high ground overlooking the deserted native village of Joroveto in the less enclosed spaces of Gill's Plantation, with the 35 and 37 Battalions and brigade units spaced on either side between the Joroveto and Mumia Rivers, and all concealed without difficulty from the air. The only access to the plantation area was a rough track, feet deep in mud, which skirted the coast among the trees, but by sundown most of the essential equipment had been transported over it. When night came down bivouacs had been erected, foxholes constructed or shelters made among the spreading roots of the trees, where the men lived on packeted C and K rations until routine was established. Air raids gave them little sleep that night, or for long afterwards.
Except for a few coconut plantations on the more level areas, Vella Lavella is clothed with dense jungle from high-water mark to the crests of mountains in the interior. Visibility ends only a few yards away in a barrier made up of fleshy leaves, vines and creepers, shrubs and tree trunks, as this mass of vegetation fights upwards to the sun. Large trees, whose massive boles sprawl out like flying buttresses several feet above the ground, are matted together with vines and a variety of barbed climbing palm to form an impenetrable canopy overhead. The earth is never dry and never free from the heavy odour of decay. Mildew grows overnight on anything damp. Growth is so swift that a rain of leaves falls in a gentle whisper. By day the jungle is comparatively quiet, except for the chatter of parrots and parakeets and the harsh shrill of myriads of cicadas, which begin and end their crude orchestra as abruptly as though working to a signal. One moment the air is vibrating with the din of a sawmill; the next all is silent. Brilliant butterflies with inches of wingspread hover among the vegetation; grotesque spiders swing their huge webs among palms and trees, and lizards, large and small, rustle among the carpet of dead leaves.
When night falls, swiftly with the setting sun, the jungle comes to life and bedlam reigns until dawn. Millions of small frogs croak and whistle, night birds screech and chatter, and cicadas join sudden bursts of sound to this disturbing clamour. Fireflies flicker like showers of sparks in the velvet gloom, and in the phosphorescent light from the chips of one tree a newspaper may be read with ease. Among the dead and fallen leaves every creeping and crawling thing finds a home—ants by the million, millipedes, slugs, crabs and lizards, including the iguana. To this exotic land thunder-storms of great violence, coming almost daily, bring torrents of
rain, adding to the discomfort and depression born of a sense of imprisonment in the perpetual half-light. The only open spaces were in the coconut plantations, though these had become dense thickets where fallen nuts had taken root and grown during the war years.
That was the setting for 14 Brigade's first action and, with few exceptions, a background for all action in the Solomons. The most spectacular part of jungle fighting is the jungle itself and the beach landings. The more common conceptions of warfare, with bursting shells, tanks, guns, and men in violent action on a vast battlefield have no place here; nature dwarfs and conceals them all.
Barrowclough took over command of Vella Lavella and all American units on 18 September and became commanding general of these composite formations, New Zealand and American, grouped by 14 Corps under the title of the Northern Landing Force. From that day all island administration—supplies, transport, signals, medical and engineering—passed to the corresponding branches of 3 Division Headquarters. Operational instructions to 14 Brigade to relieve American combat troops and clear the island of Japanese were issued the following day. Potter's plan for these operations, timed to begin on 21 September, entailed the use of two of his combat teams, built round Seaward's5 35 Battalion and Sugden's 37th. The 30th Battalion, command of which passed to Lieutenant-Colonel F. C. Cornwall, MC,6 when McNamara was evacuated sick, before leaving Guadalcanal, was held in reserve in the south of the island, where it arrived on 24 September as the other teams moved to their assembly points in the north.
The brigade commander planned a pincer movement employing Seaward's 35 Battalion combat team on the left flank and Sugden's 37th team on the right, designed to drive the enemy garrison into a trap when the two battalions met in the extreme north of the island. His teams consisted of the following units:
12 Field Battery (Maj L. J. Fahey)
C Troop, 207 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery (Lt J. C. Hutchison)
C Troop, 53 Anti-Tank Battery (Lt D. Taylor)
Detachment of 20 Field Company Engineers (2 Lt A. R. I. Garry)
Detachment of 16 MT Company ASC (Capt T. P. Revell)
A Company, 22 Field Ambulance (Capt D. G. Simpson)
2 Platoon, 14 Brigade MMG Company (Lt R. B. Lockett)
K Section Signals (Lt E. G. Harris)
35 Field Battery (Maj A. G. Coulam)
A Troop, 207 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery (Lt O. W. MacDonald)
A Troop, 53 Anti-Tank Battery (Lt C. E. G. Kerr)
Detachment of 20 Field Company Engineers (Lt R. W. Syme)
Detachment of 16 MT Company ASC (Capt J. F. B. Wilson)
Headquarters Company, 22 Field Ambulance (Capt B. W. Clouston)
3 Platoon, 14 Brigade MMG Company (Lt K. A. Wills)
E Section Signals (Lt L. C. Stewart)
Potter planned to complete the task in fourteen days; but it took only ten. After establishing advanced bases, battalion commanders were instructed to move from bay to bay in bounds, first clearing selected areas by overland patrols before bringing their main forces forward by small landing craft after beach-heads were secure. Eight such craft were allotted to each combat team, but breakdowns kept the 37th so short that at one stage it was reduced to two and borrowed replacements from the 35th pool. Supplies were maintained from Maravari, the main base, by a daily barge service to each team's headquarters as it moved forward. Dress for action was drill jungle suits with soft linen hats and waterproof capes or groundsheets, and individual equipment was made lighter by discarding steel helmets (except for anti-aircraft teams) and gas respirators. This was in accordance with Barrowclough's earlier instruction that assault troops were to go into action as lightly equipped as possible. The men carried their packaged jungle rations, atebrin tablets, mosquito repellent lotion, and water chlorinating tablets. In addition to full water bottles, a two-gallon tin of fresh water was carried for every five men.
Combat teams, which fought as self-contained units, began moving round the coast from Maravari Beach on 21 September and were established in forward areas four days later—35 Battalion at Matu Soroto because of the unsuitability of Mundi Mundi, and 37 Battalion at Boro, on Doveli Cove, after picking up a stray prisoner at Paraso Bay, which was also abandoned as a forward operational base. Once established ashore patrols fanned out like the extended fingers of a hand through dense jungle and swampy mangrove and banyan thickets, searching every yard of ground to a depth of 2000 yards inland. Progress was slow, never more than a few hundred yards a day along the narrow coastal belt, which in places was only one hundred yards wide before it rose abruptly in heavily timbered mountain slopes. Rivers and streams impeded the patrols and their native guides, who moved along the narrow tracks in single file as they paved the way for the advance.
Any use of tanks was out of the question. Field guns were dragged ashore by manpower under the most exhausting conditions. Beachheads were dictated by openings through the coral reef, some of them so shallow they prevented the passage of landing craft, and others non-existent on inaccurate maps. Conditions from the day active operations began on 25 September were harsh and difficult. Rain fell in torrents, soaking the men, hampering movement, and turning the dank jungle into a bog. Despite correct information that the Japanese were poorly armed and led, their cunningly concealed machine-gun nests and pockets of resistance sited among splaying roots and fallen logs were eradicated only with difficulty, as were snipers often hidden among the leafy branches overhead, for in the jungle the advantage is always with the defender. Hand grenades bounced off trunks and vines unless thrown with extreme care. At night patrols withdrew and formed perimeters, from which no man moved out of the cross-shaped foxholes, each containing four men, until dawn.
For the first few days action resolved itself into individual skirmishes, in which small resolute groups proved their ability to meet and defeat an equally resolute enemy camouflaged against a mottled wall of green and brown and occasional blobs of light. There was no definite lane of advance, as in open country. Patrols, thrown on their own initiative, fought individual actions among the enclosing growth, sometimes without seeing their adversaries. This was characteristic of the whole operation. By 27 September 35 Battalion patrols, which encountered the enemy much sooner than the 37th, had advanced through Pakoi Bay and stubbornly fought their way overland to the heavily timbered country round Timbala Bay, beyond which the main Japanese garrison was concentrating as it fell back from both flanks.
On 26 September a strong patrol, consisting of 14 Platoon under Lieutenant J. S. Albon,7 and the carrier platoon, working as infantry and led by Lieutenant J. W. Beaumont,8 was despatched to block trails leading into Marquana Bay and the interior, with instructions to await the arrival of the main force, but both platoons were ambushed and lost to the battalion for six days. A, B, and C Companies were established at the head of Timbala on the morning of 27 September, in readiness for an attack the following morning when, after an artillery concentration, they moved forward slowly, C on the left with its left flank on the coast, B in the middle, and
Meanwhile, two platoons under Major K. Haslett11 were sent forward to contact the force blocking the inland tracks, but when nearing Marquana Bay they ran against opposition, only 100 yards from where the force they were seeking had been ambushed, yet such was the density of the jungle they were unaware of it. Haslett returned after avoiding an ambush of his own force. Torrential rain fell all this time, disrupting communications. Wireless was useless under the tall trees and land lines broke continuously. Foxholes became beds of slime which the men shared each night with crabs and crawling insects.
By 29 September it was obvious that the battalion had come up against the main Japanese force contained in the narrow neck of land dividing Timbala Bay from Marquana Bay, and it was ordered not to make any large-scale attack but to await the arrival of 37 Battalion which, hindered by a shortage of landing craft, was covering longer distances along the deeply indented right flank. A Company was held up in Machine-gun Gully, the strongest point of resistance, and ordered to form a perimeter for the night with B and C Companies. That night, also, Private D. W. T. Evans12 reached headquarters with information that the two platoons sent out on 26 September had been ambushed, but it was vague and useless. Private W. F. A. Bickley,13 who had also escaped, was picked up the following day but he was equally vague. Next day Umomo Island, a wooded dot 40 yards off the northern end of Timbala Bay, was occupied by patrols and used as a site for enfilading enemy positions along the coast. B Company continued the move down the left flank of Machine-gun Gully while A Company took the right, both calling for artillery support when their patrols were held up.
Throughout two dreary days patrols felt their way through the jungle, clearing the fully, and the two ambushed platoons rejoined the battalion. They had fought a gallant action and, as it so happened, contained a considerable enemy force deep in the jungle while the two battalions drove the Japanese in from the flanks. Not till they returned was their story known. Night fell before they reached their objective on 26 September, but they pressed on the next morning and were within reach of the main track when
a native guide reported forty Japanese moving along it to the coast. Beaumont took two sections forward to reconnoitre the position and cover the track, which he crossed to give his machine guns a better site. This was completed by 11.30 a. m., after which small parties of Japanese were observed moving towards Marquana Bay, followed by 96 others, all well armed.
Because the parties were separated, Beaumont thought it unwise to attack. Two hours later, when this enemy traffic ceased, Beaumont began to move back to the main party, but as he did so bursts of machine-gun fire shattered the silence. A few seconds later the main party under Albon, which was surprised while having a meal, rushed along the track and passed through Beaumont's men, under whose fire the Japanese melted into the jungle. Beaumont took command and formed a rough perimeter with his own platoon at one end and Albon's at the other. He instructed the men to hold fire until they saw a target. Scurrying from tree to tree the Japanese attacked, sometimes shouting in English as they hurled grenades. Again and again the New Zealanders held off the attackers until night fell, by which time three of the garrison had been killed and four wounded, including Signaller R. J. Park,14 when a burst of machine-gun fire wrecked the wireless set on which he was attempting to communicate with headquarters.
The little force was short of food, water, and equipment, most of which had been abandoned by Albon's party when the Japanese attacked them, and completely out of touch with the main force. What little food remained was rationed among the men; rain-water was trapped in capes and groundsheets. For three more days repeated Japanese attacks were held off with determination. Although morale was high, the men were growing weak for want of food. Albon spoke to Beaumont on 29 September of attempting to reach headquarters to bring help. He slipped away the following morning, taking two men with him, but when he reached headquarters his information was too vague to be of use. That morning Corporal R. G. Waldman,15 with three men, attempted to reach the abandoned rations but was driven back into the perimeter.
On the fifth day under that dense jungle canopy, Beaumont decided to fight his way out to the beach. The wounded were suffering acutely from exposure and lack of attention. After burying the dead, he cut poles with which to make stretchers for the wounded, lashing them with vines and branches, but they were discarded as too unwieldy. Beaumont's small force then set off
at ten o'clock on the morning of 1 October. Private R. J. Fitzgerald16 led the wounded, himself one of them. Beaumont and six men covered the party as it crept through the jungle. Four and a half hours later they reached the beach, only 1000 yards away, but 49 men, including all the wounded, had been saved. A passing barge sighted Beaumont and his men inside their beach perimeter late that afternoon and advised headquarters, which immediately despatched a reconnaissance party in a landing craft with the object of making an overland advance to relieve them. When the craft moved in towards the shore Private R. Davis17 swam out to it, though fired on by machine guns from either flank of the perimeter. Private C. T. J. Beckham18 crept through the undergrowth at dusk and destroyed one of them. That night, after immediate rescue was abandoned, the hungry garrison retrieved a bag of Japanese rations dropped by parachute, killing the enemy who were searching for it.
Next day, 2 October, two barge parties, the first under 2 Lieutenant C. D. Griffiths,19 and another, which arrived later, under Lieutenant D. G. Graham, moved in as far as the coral growth would allow and men attempted to swim ashore with rations. Sharks were held off with tommy guns. Japanese snipers killed Lieutenant M. M. Ormsby20 in the water and wounded an American sailor, D. H. Stevens. Sergeant W. Q. McGhie21 reached the shore but lost food and medical supplies in the water. A second daylight attempt ended disastrously. Griffiths, Warrant Officer R. A. Roche, Private S. Hislop, Private W. M. Pratt,22 and Graham spaced themselves in the water and attempted to get a line ashore to Beaumont. It caught in the jagged coral with maddening consistency, hindering the swimmers. All were killed except Graham. Fitzgerald, who had endured the agony of the perimeter, was killed on the barge and the rescue was abandoned until nightfall. A party of strong swimmers, all volunteers, arrived from headquarters at Graham's request and, led by Corporal M. H. Cotterell,23 they swam ashore in the gathering dusk with a rubber boat and a native canoe. By eleven o'clock that night the last men
were transported to the waiting barges. Beaumont and his party had accounted for forty Japanese killed and an unknown number wounded. They themselves had lost six killed and eight wounded.
On the day of the rescue Major J. A. Burden, a Japanese interpreter from the American command, came forward with a proposal to distribute leaflets among the enemy informing them that they would be honourably treated if they surrendered, but nothing came of this. That day, also, 41 enemy planes attacked Matu Soroto but were driven off by Hutchison's guns, most of the bombs falling into the sea. By 3 October, after another artillery bombardment, A and B Companies finally cleared Machine-gun Gully, where most of the casualties occurred, and by nightfall were joined by C and D Companies. The battalion was then half way to Marquana Bay.
Meanwhile, away on the right flank, 37 Battalion had advanced to Tambana Bay against light opposition. Here a patrol led by Captain R. T. J. Adams24 captured a large Japanese barge which, well camouflaged with greenery, entered the lagoon and anchored off the beach among the mangroves. When the crew went ashore, one platoon boarded the barge and manned its several machine guns while, another, led by Lieutenant S. J. Bartos,25 hid in the undergrowth. Fourteen of the Japanese crew were killed when they attempted to return to their boat. The shore party located the remainder in a tangle of mangrove and banyan roots and destroyed them. The battalion named the barge Confident and used it as a transport after the removal of a valuable collection of papers and equipment. Next day the battalion began its next leap some miles forward to Varuasi and then pushed on to Susu Bay, after which it was instructed to concentrate in Warambari Bay by the evening of 4 October.
With landing craft borrowed from 35 Battalion's pool and ferried round the coast, 37 Battalion patrols landed on the south-west coast of Warambari Bay on the morning of 5 October against determined opposition. Lieutenant D. M. Shirley26 was pinned down between two machine-gun nests and snipers, but ultimately dealt with them. After a day of hard fighting, during which patrols killed twenty Japanese, the battalion established its beach-head and after an artillery bombardment next morning began another day of eradicating enemy posts. One patrol led by Lieutenant D. J. Law27 accounted for the first machine-gun opposition. He and his men did not rejoin their unit until the following day. Two of many
acts of bravery were recorded during those two days before Warambari was secured—the first when Private A. McCullough,28 although wounded in both hands and one leg, tossed one of their own grenades back among an enemy patrol before it exploded; the second when Corporal L. N. Dunlea29 and Lance-Corporal J. W. Barbour30 retrieved the body of Lieutenant O. Nicholls31 after he had been killed.
By nightfall on 6 October both battalions were in range of each other, with the Japanese trapped in a neck of land dividing Warambari Bay from Marquana Bay, towards which 35 Batallion had inched forward at 300 to 600 yards a day, finally losing contact with the enemy on 5 October. A prisoner taken that day stated that about 500 well organised troops were trapped. They were short of food, evidence of which were the broken coconuts found in deserted bivouacs, and wished to surrender, but were prevented from doing so by their officers. Potter, who had conducted the operation from advanced headquarters at Matu Soroto, decided to close the gap. Both the covering batteries were tied in on a common grid and came under regimental control.
By four o'clock on the afternoon of 6 October, 35 Battalion reached the coast of Marquana Bay, finding many dead Japanese and much abandoned equipment in their former bivouac area. The 37 the Battalion pushed through the jungle against opposition and by dusk and reached as far as Mende Point, narrowing the gap between the two combat teams. That night artillery and mortar concentrations were ordered over the are in which the Japanese were enclosed round Marziana Point, but because of low-flying aircraft they ceased early in the evening for fear of revealing their positions. This lack of aggression undoubtedly enabled the enemy to escape. The noise of barges scraping on the coral and the chatter of high-pitched voices could be heard by men lying in the sodden jungle, but the New Zealand guns and mortars remained silent. Next morning, after an artillery barrage, patrols from both battalions combed the area without opposition. The only event of importance that day was the rescue of seven American airmen from a raft which floated into Tambama Bay after their machine had been shot down At. 10.33 a. m. patrols from A Company of 35 Battalion joined 37 Battalion patrols from B Company at the Kazo River, but further search of the are revealed
only abandoned equipment and some dead. At 10 a. m. on 9 October Potter declared the completion of the brigade's task.
Casualties were not heavy and, despite appalling conditions, the sickness rate was low. The brigade lost three officers and 28 other ranks killed; one officer died of wounds, and one officer and 31 other ranks were wounded. Uncertain estimates of enemy killed ranged from 200 to 300, but the Japanese always attempted to hide their losses by burying their dead and removing the wounded. Their naval records, examined in Tokyo, revealed that on the night of 6–7 October, when aircraft silenced the brigade's artillery, 589 military and naval personnel were taken off the island from Maraziana Point, while destroyers sent to cover the operation were engaged by an American naval force north of the island. This operation, planned by 17 Japanese Army, included a transport force of three destroyers and a pick-up unit of five submarine-chasers and three motor torpedo boats to screen the barges transferring men from shore to ship. Six destroyers to protect this force left Rabaul on 6 October and were observed by American reconnaissance aircraft north of Buka Passage, causing the commander to death two of his destroyers to join the three transport destroyer at a rendezvous in Bougainville Strait before proceeding to Vella Lavella. Late the same afternoon the pick-up craft departed from Buin, on Bougainville, skirting the Treasury Group to pick up the destroyer screen. As the Japanese force entered waters north of Vella Lavella it was engaged by three American destroyers—Chevalier, Selfridge, and O'Bannon—which triumphed in a sharp and bitter engagement but only after being severely mauled. Selfridge had her bow sheared off, Chevalier was torpedoed and sunk, and O'Bannon damaged herself in a collision with Selfridge. A Japanese destroyer Yugomo and several small craft were sunk, but under cover of this engagement the pick-up force moved into Maraziana Point, embarked the garrison between 11.10 p. m. and 1.5 a. m. and departed for Buin, where it arrived safely. Three other American destroyers bringing a convoy from Guadalcanal to Vella Lavella were ordered to the scene of the engagement but arrived too late to take part. Next day 78 naval ratings from the Yugomo were rescued by naval patrols.
Units emerged from their first action with high morale but a healthy respect for a tenacious adversary. Men in action had not tasted hot food for almost a month, nor had a change of clothing been possible. Combat battalions lost one man killed for every man wounded, and all arms of the service, working as a team, overcame equipment problems, arduously tested by experience. There had been a tendency by commanders of combat teams to
establish separate combat headquarters, in addition to battalion headquarters, instead of absorbing the extra attached units into their battalions. This was frowned on by Barrowclough and did not happen again during the remainder of the division's service in the Solomons.
Jungle conditions made immense demands on both artillery and signals. Guns were barged from bay to bay and hauled ashore by manpower over coral and tree-roots to their selected sites on beach or headland, on one occasion taking three days to do so. Working through the night, trees and undergrowth were cleared to give arcs of fire. Ammunition was manpowered from barge to gun site. Ranging on enemy targets with accuracy was impeded by the blanket of forest, and air observations was practically useless as the smoke from ranging shells never rose above the trees. Again and again the observation officers, Captain P. M. Blundell32 and Captain R. E. Williams,33 went forward with infantry patrols to report where the shells fell, laying 25 to 50 yards from the bursts. With his remarkable sense of locality Sergeant T. J. Walsh,34 of 35 Battalion, also assisted by pin-pointing enemy machine-gun posts so that fire could be directed on them. This was the only answer to the use of artillery in the jungle.
Communication difficulties were not easily overcome. Seeping moisture, continual rain, and violent electrical storms played havoc with No. 11 and No. 12 wireless sets. Even the sets in use were not sufficiently strong to overcome the effect of the heavy mat of jungle overhead. Forward units were frequently out of touch with rear formations, particularly at night, when conditions, were at their worst. Field telephones were finally used in the forward areas and the more reliable runner when all else failed. During operations signals officers experimented with wireless aerials in trees and palms in an effort to overcome problems in such thickly wooded country. Wire-lying parties, transporting their heavy and noisy equipment through territory not cleared of Japanese, were protected by armed guards. Such was the state of country that on one occasion nine miles of wire were required between two points only three miles apart. A moisture-proof New Zealand-made wireless set, known as the ZC1, some of which came forward during operations, proved to be most suitable for jungle warfare. Finally, after most exhaustive work, a telephone circuit using seventy miles of wire was laid round most of the island, linking units, radar stations, motor torpedo boat bases, airfield and anti-aircraft defences.
Supplies during the operational period were maintained by 10 Motor Transport Company by breaking them down at Maravari and barging them round the coast to beach-heads, a journey of four to five hours, after which carrying parties took rations forward into the jungle. A field bakery detachment35 reached Vella Lavella on 9 October and, by the time the operations ended, fresh bread was delivered by landing craft to all units round the island every third day. Wounded and sick returned by the battalion supply barges to the field hospital established in Gill's Plantation, where any immediate surgical work was done by Major P. C. E. Brunette,36 1 Field Surgical Unit, after which the more serious cases were evacuated to Guadalcanal by air, the remainder travelling by boat.
While the combat teams cleared the jungle in the north, organisation and construction continued in the south. Barrowclough moved his headquarters to a less restricted and more congenial site among the palms of Gill's Plantation on 2 October, some of the trucks and jeeps taking six hours to bump their way over seven miles of mud and coconut logs of the only possible track. Regular flights of landing craft arrived from Guadalcanal, bringing forward remaining units and rear parties and immense quantities of stores, ammunition, petrol, and oil for a garrison which, by 25 October, reached 17,000 New Zealanders and Americans, these last including three battalions and ancillary units of the First Marine Amphibious Corps, a battalion of the United States Marine Corps, and operational staffs for the airfield, naval base, and motor torpedo boat base.
Two of the flights were caught on the beach by Japanese aircraft—the first on 25 September when seventeen Americans were killed, and another on 1 October when low-flying bombers came out of the sun and caught two landing craft while they were unloading.
Fifty-two men were killed and many wounded in this attack. The first bomb scored a direct hit on one of 209 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery's guns, killing Sergeant M. J. Healy,37 of M Troop, and fifteen of his detachment, and destroying the LST by fire. Another bomb failed to explode, and a third grazed the rail to explode in the water.
Once more the engineers, with increased but still limited heavy equipment, set about the primary task of transforming a rough jungle track into a two-way all-weather road from Biloa to the motor torpedo boat base at Lambu Lambu, halfway up the island, and linking all units and service installations and depots along the coast. The 26th Field Company, which became a heavy equipment company, was brought forward from Guadalcanal and shared this project with McKay's 20 Field Company. The road was finished in weeks, during which several substantial bridges were built using heavy timber from the neighbouring jungle and coconut logs for decking. Other roads were then constructed to water points and petrol dumps, known as ‘tank fields’. Two months after the division was established on Vella Lavella, speed restrictions were imposed on the main highway, the surface of which survived even the torrential rain.
Soon after fighting ceased, reconnaissance patrols were despatched to neighbouring islands on which stray Japanese might still be in hiding. Gizo Island was searched on 10 October by two platoons from 30 Battalion under Captain F. R. M Watson,38 and Ganongga Island on 19 October by a 4 Field Security patrol under Lieutenant D. Lawford,39 whose men had worked with 14 Brigade during operations and later assisted with the rescue of Beaumont's men from the beach. Both found evidence of former Japanese occupation, but the garrisons had been withdrawn on the night of 21 September. Natives reported that 67 dead Japanese had been washed ashore on Ganongga. A goodwill trip was also made to Simbo Island where, as on every island, the natives were given medical treatment by New Zealand medical officers.
A message from Griswold to Barrowclough at the conclusion of the Vella Lavella operations echoed in spirit others which came at the conclusion of each succeeding action from Halsey, Harmon, and senior American commanders in the Pacific. It ran:
Please convey to all elements of your excellent command my thanks and heartiest congratulations for the despatch with which enemy forces were driven from Vella Lavella. The prompt action of your division to make
secure the island's vital installations was accomplished with the smoothness and efficiency which mark a well-trained and determined organisation. Your own cordial co-operation and willingness to accommodate your requirements to limitations of transportation and other inconveniences which the situation required is fully appreciated. We have shown our readiness and ability to work together as Allies, and it is with the greatest confidence that I look forward to future operations with the Third New Zealand Division.
Although military operations were only of secondary importance, the conquest of Vella Lavella was a significant phase in the Solomons campaign. The island was secured at a cost of only 150 killed, New Zealanders and Americans, and the value of by-passing strategy conclusively proved. The airfield, construction of which began on 16 August, was in operation by 26 September and by 18 October in daily operational use by a squadron of Corsairs. A few days later sixty aircraft were using Barakoma. Moreover, 22 airmen had been saved either from the sea or by crash-landing on the partially constructed field. From the new motor torpedo boat base at Lambu Lambu powerful little craft emerged each night to hunt and disrupt enemy barge traffic round the Shortlands and Choiseul. Aircraft stationed at Barakoma joined those operating from Munda and Guadalcanal to pound enemy strongholds on and around Bougainville and Rabaul. Flights of 100 or more, droning north, became familiar sights. Thus the capture of Vella Lavella paved the way for the next thrust forward—the occupation of the Treasury Group, 73 miles away, and the landing on Bougainville.
II: The Treasuries
As 14 Brigade settled down to a period of routine duty after securing Vella Lavella, 8 Brigade embarked on the division's second task in the campaign—the capture of the Treasury Islands, a small group lying 300 miles north of Guadalcanal and only 18 miles from the Shortland Islands, where the Japanese were strongly entrenched round a series of airfields and naval bases covering their last defence system in the Solomons. The Treasury Group, consisting of Mono and Stirling Islands, with the deep, sheltered waters of Blanche Harbour dividing them, was urgently required to continue the by-passing strategy so successfully developed on Vella Lavella and to assist with a large-scale landing by Vandegrift's United States Marine Corps at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville, the next thrust in the enveloping movement designed to reduce Rabaul and isolate the remaining Japanese garrison, estimated at 24,000, holding Bougainville and neighbouring islands to the south.
A radar station was an imperative accessory to the Bougainville landing to give warning of approaching enemy air and surface
craft, and a site for it was tentatively selected on the northern coast of Mono Island, a densely wooded cone seven miles by three, rising to a height of 1100 feet. Blanche Harbour, as beautiful as any in the Solomons, with tiny, palm-clad islands breaking its surface, fulfilled all requirements as a staging base for naval and barge traffic; and on flat, irregularly shaped Stirling Island, three and a half miles long by anything from 300 to 1500 yards wide, there was an excellent site for an airfield after the removal of its covering of dense forest.
Tactical and supply considerations and the adequacy of air support from existing airfields dictated the landings on both the Treasury Islands and Empress Augusts Bay, and then only after the alternatives of Choiseul, Kahili, and the Shortland Islands had been abandoned because they were too strongly defended. An assault on those two objectives was also considered the best possible method of meeting the Joint Chiefs of Staff directives concerning the Solomons offensive and the subjection of Rabaul, but they were selected only after long discussions by the planning staffs of both MacArthur's and Halsey's headquarters. Most of the information which assisted the planners in arriving at their decision was obtained from reconnaissance parties, which went ashore at night from submarines and landing craft and spent days hiding in the jungle, interrogating natives and observing Japanese defences and movement of garrisons.
Barrowclough was informed of this task on 20 September, when he discussed with Wilkinson various phases of the campaign, following his arrival on Guadalcanal. He allotted it to 8 Brigade, since 14 Brigade was already committed to Vella Lavella, to which it had departed three days after the arrival of 8 Brigade. From the time of its arrival on Guadalcanal, 8 Brigade lost no time in practising with fervour all phases of jungle warfare through the wooded gullies of the Matanikau River and over the grassy ridges radiating from the slopes of Mount Austen—country which had been most bitterly contested by the Japanese in the battle for Guadalcanal. Typical of this thorough training was the despatch of small groups to spend the night bivouacking in the jungle to make themselves familiar with the fantasy of noises and unusual conditions. Combined manoeuvres were also held with the Tank Squadron, then camped on the banks of the Lunga River. Tanks were allotted to battalions for field days—Troops one and four with 29 Battalion, two and five with 34 Battalion, and three with 36 Battalion. Although they never worked in combat with 8 Brigade, the exacting experience gained from these exercises was
invaluable in the jungle on Green Island, where the tanks later worked with 14 Brigade.
There was one diversion from training which was typical of warfare in the Solomons, where small units frequently operated in Japanese-held territory to which they moved by submarine, motor torpedo boat or aircraft, and where they were secured against discovery by loyal and co-operative natives. From 30 September until 12 October, a fighting patrol from 29 Battalion under Sergeant G. G. McLeod40 protected a group of four American technicians who were taking astronomical observations on the island of Choiseul, in order to correct irregularities on the existing maps of the Solomons. The patrol was flown from Halavo, an American seaplane base established on the coast of Florida, in a Catalina which also flew them back via Rendova, in the New Georgia Group, at the end of their mission. Friendly natives, to whom McLeod and his men carried gifts of tobacco, food, and clothing, guided the party as it carried out its mission, moving by canoe at night along the coast from village to village without interference. The only excitement during the execution of this valuable task was the failure of the seaplane to rendezvous at the appointed time, causing the party to spend an extra night on the island.
For the assault on the Treasury Group, 8 Brigade came under command of the First Marine Amphibious Corps, command of which passed to Vandegrift on 15 September following the accidental death of Barrett. The whole operation was again under Wilkinson, of Task Force 31. Such naval planning, the work of a United States staff, had been improved after long and often bitter experience since the August landing. Row commanded all land forces, New Zealand and American. He held his first conference on 30 September, the day after receipt of the Corps Commander's letter of instruction, when he explained to his unit commanders the broad outline of the impending operation.
Planning this first opposed landing by New Zealand troops since Gallipoli required the most precise attention to detail so that troops, guns, ammunition, rations, petrol, oil, vehicles, and technical equipment could be disembarked from the proper landing craft in their appointed wave and time on the beach for which they were intended. Row's task was far from easy, as shortages of landing craft still hampered all amphibious operations. Only the barest minimum of such craft was available for this operation and losses seriously jeopardised any future operations. It was impossible, with the craft available, to take more than a minimum number of the troops and supplies forward for the initial landing. Of his total
available force of 6574 all ranks (4608 New Zealanders and 1966 Americans), only 3795 could be accommodated for the assault, leaving the remainder to go forward in four successive flights, one every five days. Battalion strengths were reduced to 600 each and their transport to two 30-cwt. trucks and four jeeps. The assault force required to take with it 1785 tons of supplies and equipment, leaving several thousand tons to go forward with succeeding flights. In planning this action men, supplies, and equipment were distributed over thirty-one different landing craft of six different types, transported 300 miles north and, within a few hours, landed in successive waves against opposition on beaches familiar only from air photographs. Landing craft speeds ranged from six to 35 knots, and as much as three days elapsed between the despatch of the first and last convoys from Guadalcanal. All craft of the first flight were tactically loaded, with men and supplies so distributed that if one boat was lost the whole operation would not be imperilled.
Brigade Headquarters was expanded to deal with the increased work such planning demanded, not only for the actual assault but for the loading and equipment tables of every landing craft of succeeding flights. Not a foot of space was wasted; the loading tables were meticulously detailed. Major J. G. S. Bracewell was brought up from Base in New Caledonia and appointed AA and QMG, Captain B. M. Silk was attached as staff captain movements, and Captain R. S. Lawrence, of 36 Battalion, as staff captain A to assist the normal staff of the brigade which, once ashore, would constitute an island command. Captain John Merrill, an interpreter of Japanese from 14 Corps Headquarters, also joined the brigade to translate captured documents and interrogate prisoners of war. Lieutenant-Colonel J. Brooke-White41 was appointed New Zealand liaison officer on Corps Headquarters during the planning period, which required the precise co-ordination of all navy, army, and air elements. He and others soon discovered that the service language of the two peoples differed greatly as, for example, when New Zealand ‘unit equipment’ became American ‘impedimenta’.
Only one area in the Treasuries was suitable for a landing by heavy LSTs carrying earth-moving equipment, unit transport, guns and weighty stores—the sandy beaches of a small promontory at Falamai, on the coast of Mono, two miles from the western entrance to Blanche Harbour, and close beside the headquarters of the Japanese garrison. Row decided to make his principal assault there,
using two battalions, the 29th on the right flank and the 36th on the left, at the same time moving 34 Battalion on to Stirling Island to establish a perimeter wherein the artillery was to be sited along the inner shore in support of troops in action across the water on Mono Island. Guns, both field and anti-aircraft, were to be ferried across Blanche Harbour from the Falamai beach-head and emplaced with the utmost urgency.
While this main assault was in progress, a small separate force was to be landed at Soanotalu, a narrow bay on the north coast of Mono, to install a radar station which would look directly into Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville. Topographical information concerning these islands was reasonably good. It was assembled from most excellent air photographs taken, with great thoroughness, by American reconnaissance units and known as ‘hasty terrain’ maps; the personal observations of a naval and marine patrol which landed from a submarine and spent six days on Mono Island in August; and from talks with American airmen who had been rescued from the island after spending some time there when their machine was shot down. From all available sources the brigade intelligence section constructed a twelve feet square sand model for more complete comprehension of Row's plan of attack, which he set about completing with energy and perspicacity.
Twenty miles of primitive roads and a faulty telephone system separated Row from Corps and Task Force Headquarters, and delays in obtaining information and decisions frequently hampered planning, all of which was dictated by the amount of shipping available. The arrival at the last moment of some of the more hastily assembled American units, and the lack of knowledge of their particular tasks also delayed completion of final loading tables, as they were unable to furnish such vital information as the amount of shipping space required and the number of men they were taking forward in the first flight. As the tactical loading and equipment tables were completed ten days before departure, this often led to wasteful and hasty rearrangement.
Only meagre information was available concerning the strength of the enemy and his dispositions in the Treasury Group. In order to overcome this deficiency, Sergeant W. A. Cowan,42 a member of the brigade intelligence section who really measured up to the requirements of that organisation, made two trips to the island before the landing took place. In company with Corporal J. Nash, an Australian coastwatcher, and two members of the British Solomon Islands Defence Force, Warrant Officer F. Wickham and Sergeant
Ilala, Cowan spent twelve hours on Mono Island, landing there at midnight on 22 October by canoe from a motor torpedo boat. When he and his party returned the following night, they brought with them three American airmen whose machine had been shot down off the island, and six natives who were to act as guides on the day of the landing. Their return was another comment on this island warfare. After boarding the motor torpedo boat in the darkness off Mono, they sped to Vella Lavella where a waiting aircraft flew the party to Guadalcanal; the natives, emerging from the jungle for the first time in their lives, were pop-eyed with excitement as they marvelled at the wonders of travel war had brought to them. Cowan produced a valuable report, information from which was quickly disseminated to units ready to depart, though the slower-moving craft had already gone. The Japanese garrison, reinforced by 50 men a few days before his arrival on the island, was estimated at 225, with headquarters near the Saveke River, strongposts and the main garrison covering Falamai Beach, and observation posts at Laifa Point and other sites round the coast. Stirling. Island was free of Japanese. Cowan returned to Mono by motor torpedo boat on the night of 26 October, taking with him Corporal W. Gilfillan, Private C. Rusden, and Private J. Lempriere,43 all of 29 Battalion, to organise native patrols, known as ‘blokes’, and cut the Japanese telephone line between Laifa Point and headquarters on the morning of the landing.
The original plan for a simultaneous assault on the Treasury Islands and Empress Augusta Bay on 1 November was discarded by the South Pacific Command on 12 October in favour of sending Row's brigade into the Treasuries on 27 October, five days before the establishment of the Bougainville beach-head, in order to have a radar station in operation on Mono. On the night of 27 October, also, a realistic diversionary raid by 2 US Parachute Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel V. H. Krulak was to be made on the island of Choiseul. Krulak was to be prepared to remain there for an indefinite period, which he did, remaining at Voza until the night of 3–4 November, and baffling the Japanese command by concealing the exact locality of the next Allied thrust.
Row issued his first administration order for the Treasury operation on 11 October and his first operational order on the 21st, by which time all details were completed by the planning committee. The administration order set out minutely the beach organisation, working parties for unloading, the pooling of transport to facilitate
unloading, and all details for succeeding flights. From 14 to 17 October the brigade rehearsed the landing on Tumuligohm Beach, on Florida Island, using four APDs and eight LCIs with which to practise embarkation and disembarkation, loading and unloading equipment, and the quartering of personnel. No detail was forgotten in making these practice landings as realistic as possible.
On 23, 24, and 25 October the slower craft were loaded and despatched from Guadalcanal, staging north via the Russell Islands and Rendova, their movements co-ordinated, under destroyer protection commanded by Rear-Admiral G. H. Fort, so that they would rendezvous off Blanche Harbour on the morning of 27 October. Finally, the faster APDs carrying the assault troops left Guadalcanal on 26 October, the Brigadier and his staff travelling in USS Stringham. The whole force bore a farewell message of the kind to which American commanders were addicted. It concluded: ‘Shoot calmly, shoot fast, and shoot straight’. The men each carried two days' rations, and in their equipment was half a ‘pup’ tent, to be joined with another and set up as one in the bivouac area ashore. They wore steel helmets but carried soft jungle hats in their haversacks. Gas respirators were discarded. The assault troops wore camouflaged jungle uniforms of drill to make them less distinguishable in the jungle; some daubed their hands and faces with stain. The journey to the Treasuries was uneventful. Some men slept on deck in the hot night, for there was no moon.
The following units of the brigade made the landing on Treasury:
29 Battalion (Lt-Col F. L. H. Davis)
34 Battalion (Lt-Col R. J. Eyre)
36 Battalion (Lt-Col K. B. McKenzie-Muirson, MC)
38 Field Regiment (Lt-Col W. A. Bryden)—only one battery made the original landing.
29 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (Lt-Col W. S. McKinnon)—two batteries made the original landing.
54 Anti-Tank Battery (Maj R. M. Foreman)
8 Brigade MMG Company (Maj G. W. Logan)
23 Field Company Engineers (Maj A. H. Johnston)
4 Motor Transport Company ASC (Maj R. Gapes)
7 Field Ambulance (Lt-Col S. Hunter)
2 Field Surgical Unit (Maj G. E. Waterworth)
Malaria Control Section (2 Lt R. D. Dick)
J Section Signals (Capt G. M. Parkhouse)
10 Mobile Dental Section (Capt J. H. Neville)
American units included 198 Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Regiment (less one battalion) with sixteen 90-millimetre and thirty-two 37-millimetre guns and twenty searchlights; a company of 87 Naval Construction Battalion (the CBs), and technical personnel to
operate air support, radar station, advanced naval base, a boat pool and a signals unit, totalling 1966 all ranks, 60 per cent of whom landed with the first assault troops.
Zero hour for the landing was set for six minutes past six on the morning of 27 October, but because of the late arrival of the APDs it was delayed for twenty minutes and the radio silence broken by its dissemination to vessels of the convoy. In the grey light of breaking day, and wrapped in a drizzle of warm rain, the convoy lay off the western entrance to Blanche Harbour—eight APDs, eight LCIs, two LSTs and three LCTs, protected by a screen of six American destroyers. Overhead circled a fighter cover of 32 aircraft, including New Zealanders of Nos. 15 and 18 Squadrons, RNZAF, which patrolled from first light. Rain squalls came down as the assault troops descended the rope ladders into the landing craft, which rose and fell below them on the lazy swell, in readiness for the two miles dash up the harbour. Above them, out of
the mist, rose the grey mushroom of Mono and, on the right, the dim shape of trees on Stirling. Moving sluggishly off the islands lay the large landing craft, waiting their turn to enter the harbour and beach after the way had been paved by the assault troops.
Promptly at 5.45 a.m. the guns of two American destroyers, Pringle and Philip, cracked in the morning stillness as they bombarded Falamai and its environs, though many of the shells caught the crest of an island in the harbour and failed to reach their objective. By six o'clock, as the light revealed the scene in detail, the first wave was on its way to the beaches in an atmosphere of noise, rain, and excitement. Because destroyers were unable to manoeuvre in the harbour, newly converted LCI gunboats, recently arrived from Nouméa and used experimentally for the first time, moved on the left flank of the assaulting waves, pouring streams of tracer like coloured water from a hose into the undergrowth along the shore. They undoubtedly reduced the number of casualties, though by tarrying a little too long off Falamai they did hold up an assault battalion after it landed.
Two minutes after the naval bombardment ceased the first wave of assault troops leaped ashore at 6.26 a.m. from the landing craft, as though on a well-executed manoeuvre. As these craft emptied and withdrew, succeeding waves followed at thirty-minute intervals until the last and heavier craft arrived at 9.20 a.m. B and C Companies of 29 Battalion moved quickly through the village of Falamai, with A Company coming in on their left flank to sweep across the whole battalion sector from Cutler's Creek, on the extreme left flank, to the Kolehe River on the extreme right. A and B Companies of 36 Battalion disappeared into dense undergrowth between the Saveke River and Cutler's Creek, A Company under Captain K. E. Louden44 being temporarily held up by the gunboat's stream of tracer, though it went in later to rout out Japanese headquarters 500 yards west of the Saveke River.
There was little opposition to the immediate landing and initial casualties were light. Unexpectedly, landing craft were fired on from Cumming's point on Stirling Island, though no enemy was ever found there. The Japanese garrison (their official time was always different) ceased communication with its headquarters in Rabaul with a message ‘Enemy landing commenced at 0540 hours. We have engaged them.’ before Louden's men drove them up the hillside.
In the first rush from the beaches some enemy strongposts were overrun and the garrisons went to earth, emerging again to take the landing troops from the rear. One of these posts was demolished
by Private E. V. Owen45 (a man over forty with a son serving in the RNZAF) and Private E. C. Banks,46 using hand grenades. Then, as the large LSTs beached at half past seven, another enemy strongpost 20 yards from the shore came to life, pouring machine-gun fire into the craft as the ramp was lowered. It created considerable damage before it was silenced by a resourceful American, Carpenter's Mate 1st Class Aurillo Tassone, of the CBs, who, using a bulldozer as a tank and its shining blade as a shield, crushed the garrison and buried the 24 Japanese occupants in one operation. He was awarded the Silver Star. A party of anti-aircraft gunners, landing with the second wave, attempted to liquidate this strongpoint, and Gunner M. J. Compton47 disposed of some of the occupants before the bulldozer arrived. Captain H. H. Grey,48 also a gunner, collected a party and played an infantry role by seeking enemy strongposts.
Activity on the beaches was frequently more intense than in the jungle. Sapper J. K. Duncan,49 of 23 Field Company, never left his bulldozer, but kept tracks open from the landing craft to the dump areas, despite exploding mortar bombs.
By 7.35 a.m. the Japanese garrison had reorganised itself and laid down concentrated and accurate mortar and machine-gun fire on the beaches, where the LSTs were unloading heavy supplies, guns, and equipment. Direct hits set two of them on fire, but unloading parties quickly extinguished the outbreaks. Unit parties organising dumps of equipment on the beaches and sorting out gear as it came ashore were caught in the Japanese bombardment. One American 90-millimetre anti-aircraft gun and one New Zealand Bofors gun were destroyed; one 25-pounder gun of 38 Field Regiment was badly damaged and large quantities of ammunition and medical stores were lost. An artillery jeep and truck were both hit and much valuable equipment destroyed; another truck belonging to 4 Company ASC, loaded with ammunition, received a direct hit and blew up, pieces of the truck wrapping themselves round a palm trunk forty feet away. Just before midday a Japanese ammunition dump was hit and blew up, setting fire to the remaining huts of the village, where smoke and flames added to the unholy orchestra. Exploding ammunition caused LST 399 to retract from the beach and move farther along the shore.
Because of the difficult country—dense forest cut by deep water-courses—the site of the enemy guns was difficult to pinpoint. At
ten o'clock two platoons of 36 Battalion were ordered to search the high country above the old Japanese headquarters. One of these, under Second-Lieutenant L. T. G. Booth,50 quickly achieved its objective and stopped the beach bombardment. Scrambling up the hillside through the densest undergrowth, Booth and his men located and rushed the first enemy position and captured two 75-millimetre mountain guns, the barrels of which were still hot. Then, guided by the sound of a mortar in action, Booth led a section of his men 500 yards farther up the hill and captured a 90-millimetre mortar. Ten members of the crew were killed; the remainder fled. All enemy resistance in the immediate vicinity of the landing was overcome soon after midday and battalions dug in along their perimeters from 400 to 600 yards in the jungle, which was much thicker than information had led them to believe.
The Stirling landing was unopposed and accomplished with ease; as troops cleared Falamai, boats carrying 34 Battalion swung right and went ashore. Two sections of 3-inch mortars were established on Watson Island to cover the perimeter on Mono. Brigade Headquarters, landing in the second wave, moved into a small bay on the inner shore of Stirling and was soon in wireless communication with units scattered over the two islands. During the day guns of 29 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment and 38 Field Regiment were landed from LSTs at Falamai and ferried across Blanche Harbour. Late that afternoon they were dragged ashore over the coral and sited along the northern shore of Stirling, from which they covered the whole of Mono Island and both entrances to the harbour. One battery of anti-aircraft guns was temporarily sited on Watson Island. Incredible quantities of coconut palms and vegetation were felled that day to give the guns arcs of fire.
Activity on the beach, though hindered temporarily by exploding ammunition, proceeded with only one hitch. Typical of the speed in unloading the earlier craft was the record of LCI 330, which discharged 299 men and 15 tons of cargo in 14 minutes. Only a few tons of cargo were returned to Guadalcanal in one of the LSTs, because of some misunderstanding of the respective functions of the crew of the craft and the New Zealand unloading parties. After the trucks and jeeps on LST 399 were driven ashore, work on this craft almost ceased and the American commander reported that unloading became ‘inexcusably slow’. The commander of the LST could not convince the troops that unloading was a troops responsibility, and there was some disorganisation of beach parties because of casualties. Otherwise all arrangements, despite the temporary hold-up because of exploding ammunition, went according
to Row's well-conceived plan, and by nightfall most of the landing craft were on their way back to Guadalcanal, there to load the second flight.51
When darkness came, bringing with it more torrential rain, the two battalion perimeters were established, the men sharing without complaint their dank cruciform foxholes with centipedes and other insects repulsive to a degree. During the day a few snipers were shot out of trees inside the perimeter, and under cover of darkness the Japanese attempted to reach their ration dump, which was outside the 36 Battalion perimeter and could not be moved during the day. However, no determined attack developed. From the high country the Japanese dropped occasional mortar bombs into the beach area and swept it periodically with bursts of machinegun fire. A nervous reaction to the night noises and the events of the day caused some indiscriminate shooting, which revealed the position of the men and their posts, but there were actually fewer snipers than was indicated by the excitement they caused. On one occasion, to prove that a tree did not contain snipers, it was ordered to be felled, but nothing unusual spilled out of the branches.
Row had every reason to congratulate himself on his accurate and exhaustive planning. No call was necessary on his reserve—30 Battalion, waiting on Vella Lavella—though he employed the additional anti-aircraft units placed at his disposal by Barrowclough. Capture and consolidation of the Treasury Group on 27 October was accomplished with the loss of 30 killed (21 New Zealanders; 9 Americans) and 85 wounded (70 New Zealanders; 15 Americans), though Japanese aircraft came in after dark that night, spilling their bombs haphazardly over the Falamai and Saveke area, killing and wounding some men of 36 Battalion. But there was no counter-attack from the Shortland Islands, though Row was gravely concerned that such might develop. Had it done so ample warning would have been given by a squadron of motor torpedo boats which, under Lieutenant-Commander R. B. Kelly, US Navy, moved out of Blanche Harbour in the deepening dusk and maintained a constant night patrol of the waters between Shortland Islands and the Treasuries. Both entrances to the harbour were covered by detachments of guns of 54 Anti-Tank Battery, and the guns of both 38 Field Regiment and 29 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment were given secondary roles of firing on surface craft. The day following the landing, and for some days afterwards, patrols from 29 and 36 Battalions moved beyond their strengthened perimeters without meeting resistance, though they found traces of
the enemy, who had picked up his dead and wounded and retired to the northern coast of Mono Island. Hit-and-run bomber raids were made over the Falamai area the first few nights only, after which they diminished.
Although the landing was observed by the Japanese, little action was taken because of pressure by Australian and American forces in New Guinea, where the battle at Lae, Salamaua, and Finschhafen was adversely affecting them. A reconnaissance aircraft, known as a ‘snooper’, picked up the convoy at 4.20 a.m. as it approached Mono and signalled the information to Rabaul. The commander of the South East Area Fleet immediately ordered an air attack and directed submarine RO-105 to the Treasury Group to report on Allied activity. This craft was sighted from Soanotalu by members of Loganforce as it lay off the island. An air attack by 39 Zeros and 10 carrier bombers from the Shortlands did little damage until nightfall.
During the day enemy aircraft were held off by No. 15 Squadron RNZAF, under Squadron Leader M. J. Herrick,52 and No. 18 Squadron under Squadron Leader J. A. Oldfield,53 which, with American aircraft working from Vella Lavella, maintained an effective cover only rarely broken by the enemy, four of whom were shot down. Although Japanese reports made extravagant claims of sinking two American transports and two cruisers, they did little damage, their only target being the US destroyer Cony, on which they dropped two bombs. A night raid on Mono, built round the light cruiser Nagara and ten destroyers then at Rabaul, was planned by the Japanese area commander but was cancelled the following day because of the rapidly deteriorating situation in New Guinea.
Meanwhile, as Falamai was cleared and consolidated, Loganforce, named after its commander, Major G. W. Logan,54 went about its appointed task on the other side of Mono, and wrote a gallant little page of history in doing so. Covered by the American destroyer McKean, Logan disembarked his small force of 200 all ranks at dawn on 27 October without opposition and established a perimeter round the tiny 40-yards-wide beach, overhung with trees, at the mouth of the Soanotalu River, above which rose forest-clad cliffs in a verdant semi-circle. This force consisted of D Company, 34 Battalion, under Captain Ian Graham;55 one section of the MMG
Company under Sergeant T. J. Phipps;56 an artillery observer, Captain D. J. S. Millar,57 of 52 Battery; a field ambulance detachment under Captain C. C. Foote;58 a detachment of the United States naval construction battalion under Lieutenant C. E. Turnbull, and a detachment of American radar technicians. By midday patrols reconnoitred the surrounding country without finding any trace of the enemy, the American technicians sought out and recommended sites for radar, and during the afternoon engineers began forming a road up the rising ground from the beach in readiness for the equipment, which was barged round from Falamai and arrived the following day. Late that afternoon natives arrived in the perimeter with Flight Sergeant George Luoni,59 a New Zealand airman whose machine had been shot down off Mono a month previously. He had been hidden and protected by natives until he was discovered in a hut by members of Cowan's patrol, the night before the landing.
Each day patrols from Graham's company worked out to a depth of 1000 yards through the jungle and along the coast, and by 29 October ran against small parties of Japanese filtering through from Falamai. The first serious attempt was made to reach the beach late that afternoon, when a party of twenty Japanese attacked the perimeter but were driven back by No. 14 Platoon under Lieutenant R. M. Martin,60 leaving five dead. That night guns of 38 Field Regiment emplaced along the harbour coast of Stirling Island, six miles away, registered outside the Loganforce perimeter, lobbing their shells over the crown of Mono. Clashes with the enemy halted neither the construction of the road nor the installation of the urgently required radar, the first of which was in operation two days after landing at Soanotalu. There was difficulty in restraining the enthusiasm of the American technicians, both radar and engineer, who frequently assisted the New Zealand patrols instead of concentrating on their construction work.
By 30 October, when it was obvious that the Japanese refugees were concentrating round Soanotalu, as Barrowclough had anticipated when he approved the original plans, Row despatched reinforcements from 34 Battalion,61 consisting of C Company headquarters and one platoon and the carrier platoon (used as infantry)
under Major J. C. Braithwaite.62 These were disposed round the second radar site, equipment for which was dragged up the hillside from the beach and emplaced on higher ground the following day. It was operating on 31 October with the radius of 107 to 124 miles, and fulfilled its mission by being ready for the Empress Augusta Bay landing on 1 November.
Meanwhile, increasing patrol clashes indicated growing Japanese strength, though the enemy made no attempt no reach the radar and was unaware of its existence. A small patrol under Lieutenant J. A. H. Dowell63 encountered a strong enemy force 1500 yards beyond the perimeter on 1 November and withdrew after inflicting damage, as Dowell feared an ambush in such close country. With the arrival of reinforcements Logan divided his force, using Braithwaite's group to guard the radar station high above the beach and the remainder to guard the original perimeter round headquarters and a second station. Closer to the beach, inside the perimeter in a strongpoint covering a barge drawn up on the sand, was a small force of nine men, six New Zealanders and the three American members of the barge crew, under Captain L. J. Kirk.64
Late on the night of 1 November, between sixty and ninety Japanese attacked the west perimeter, using grenades, mortars, and machine guns in an attempt to reach the landing barge. Before midnight the field telephones joining strongpoints with the commander had been put out of action by grenades, and the groups fought independently of each other. Japanese infiltrated through the perimeter and attempted to break Kirk's small garrison, which was armed with hand grenades, one tommy gun, and two machine guns taken off the barge. The first assault came at 1.30 a. m., killing Staff-Sergeant D. O. Hannafin65 and wounding Kirk, whose skull was creased with a bullet. He recovered and continued directing the defence. When the machine guns were hit and put out of action, Kirk and his men held off the Japanese with hand grenades. A suggestion to abandon the strongpost and withdraw to the main defence position was discarded in favour of holding out until day-light. Soon afterwards Kirk was again wounded, this time fatally, though he survived until next day. Command of the little garrison passed to Private C. H. Sherson66 and, when he was wounded as the Japanese pressed their attack, to the company cook, Private
J. E. Smith,67 who led the defenders until dawn, after which the Japanese melted away into the jungle. When daylight came a patrol was despatched from Logan's headquarters to investigate the state of the beach post, shooting a sniper on the way. Twenty-six Japanese dead lay round Kirk's strongpost. Some of them had reached the barge and were killed beside it. Most of Kirk's garrison were wounded, including one of the Americans and Smith himself who, in the midst of the grim scene, was busily preparing breakfast.
Platoons on the west perimeter fought off the attackers without loss. Fifty Japanese dead were counted that morning by patrols, but as on every other occasion, the wounded had been removed. Captured enemy equipment included five knee mortars, four light machine guns, several dozen rifles and one sword. During the day Logan reorganised his defences in readiness for attacks which came on the two following nights, though with decreasing violence, from desperate refugees who represented the last Japanese resistance on Mono. Patrols afterwards fanned out from the perimeter, picked up a few stragglers, and drove the remainder into hiding. D Company was relieved by A Company under Captain A. G. Steele68 on 5 November, but the Loganforce garrison was never again attacked.
Organised resistance in the Treasuries ceased on the night of 2–3 November, but groups of Japanese survivors secreted themselves in caves along the northern coast, where they built rafts in an effort to escape to the Shortlands. These survivors were eliminated only with difficulty by patrols. One such raft carrying an unknown number of Japanese was rammed and strafed by a motor torpedo boat four miles off shore. After moving elements of 34 Battalion to Malsi, which looked directly on to the Shortlands, Row ordered the whole island of Mono to be combed by fighting patrols. The hazards of these expeditions were increased by the density of the jungle and by broken watercourses which, radiating from the crown of the island, cut down to the coast in small rivers.
Several sharp engagements resulted before groups of refugees were exterminated. On 5 November a fighting patrol of D Company 36 Battalion, under Major I. G. O'Neill,69 which crossed the island from Falamai, was prompted to investigate a cave on the northern coast by the discovery of a recently constructed raft and paddles close beside it. In the two-hour engagement which followed, ten Japanese were killed and one taken prisoner.
Corporal F. A. Armstrong's70 initiative in following a wounded Japanese down a cliff-face and tossing grenades into a cave, after a sergeant had been killed by the enemy hiding there, saved the lives of several members of this patrol. The following day a patrol from Steele's company at Soanotalu routed twelve Japanese out of caves and killed them, losing one man killed and four wounded in doing so. The last of the refugees in any number were discovered hiding in caves west of Soanotalu on 8 November by a 29 Battalion patrol, under Lieutenant E. C. Chandler,71 which destroyed twelve more. Other patrols laboriously searched the caves, water-course, and jungle, picking up a few stragglers, but by 12 November the island was declared clear of the enemy. By that time eight prisoners had been taken and the destruction of 205 Japanese confirmed, the number rising to 223 by end of the month. Allied casualties were:–
Killed: New Zealand 40, United States 12
Wounded: New Zealand 145, United States 29
Occasional Japanese were sighted in the jungle up to the end of December, and even in January, giving rise to fantastic stories, some of them true, of their attempts to obtain food from unit cookhouses and their escapes when pursued. One such story, a true one, concerned an American cook who disturbed a Japanese in his modest kitchen and knocked out the intruder with a Coleman lamp. This Japanese had been hiding close beside 34 Battalion's open-air theatre. Such was one aspect of war in the the jungle. Civil administration was restored on 1 November by Major D. C. C. Trench, of the Government service, and the flag raised over the ruins of Falamai.
Although command of 8 Brigade did not revert to the division until 16 November, Barrowclough and some of his senior officers visited the Treasuries on 2 November, travelling from Vella Lavella by motor torpedo boat and reaching Blanche Harbour by dawn. Moving from beach-head to beach-head by landing craft, the General visited as many units as possible in company with Row and arrived to find the Soanotalu action still in progress.
The Treasury operation was a revealing example of that team-work, not only among services but between New Zealand and American units and formations, which brought success to this island-hopping campaign and improved the planning for subsequent landings. A detachment of the US Naval Base landed with the first wave of New Zealand troops to mark beaches for craft arriving in succeeding flights. They then organised and controlled a small
fleet of landing craft to ferry vehicles, stores, and guns to Stirling Island, and in a few days were running a regular ferry service round Blanche Harbour for passengers, rations, water, and other supplies. Among the New Zealanders the problems of the moment were overcome with speed and enterprise. All services were represented among the assaulting troops and worked with the infantry during the immediate beach fighting. An armourer of the Ordnance Corps, Sergeant W. J. Pearson,72 was one of the first casualties on the beach at Falamai, and two artillery observation officers of 49 Battery, Captain H. J. Greig73 and Captain F. J. Mitchell,74 undertook infantry roles during the first day's fighting. On the day of the landing bulldozers of 23 Field Company scooped roads and tracks from the beach to dumps and headquarters inside the perimeter, later extending them into the jungle and to nearby beaches. Communication problems resolved themselves more easily than during the operations on Vella Lavella. A forward signal centre established on Mono Island relayed information by wireless to headquarters on Stirling, the sets working well across water. Later, an underwater cable was laid from island to island, dried coconuts being used to float the line over sharp-cutting coral on the foreshore. Except for interruption by electrical storms, which were frequent and violent, the ZC1 and No. 48 radio sets worked well, and only rarely were commanders out of touch. The 7th Field Ambulance hospital, established in a cleared area under trees on Stirling, was relatively free from interference, but at a small dressing station in the forward area at Falamai, Captain D. Rogers75 was forced to move to a stream, where the banks gave protection from flying metal, and he and his staff worked standing in the water, above which their patients were suspended on stretchers. The wounded were evacuated to 2 Casualty Clearing Station on Guadalcanal by landing craft and sent on to 4 General Hospital in New Caledonia by air, where they arrived 48 hours later.
III: The Waiting Period
With the cessation of hostilities on both Vella Lavella and the Treasuries, problems of administration, particularly of maintenance and engineering, took precedence over operations. Units on each island were always maintained at combat strength by the absorption of reinforcements from New Caledonia, but the principal activities
of each base centred round airfields and motor torpedo boat bases, since the striking force of those two arms of the service most effectively punished and weakened the enemy during the periods when further thrusts forward were being planned and organised. As the months went by, however, both islands were left far in the rear zone as the battle moved north. The plantations returned to their habitual peace, broken only by the chatter of birds by day and the noisy quarrelling of flying foxes by night. Before the New Zealanders left Vella Lavella, members of 17 Field Regiment, L Section Signals, and 20 Light Aid Detachment of the Ordnance Corps presented 1009 dollars to the Methodist Foreign Mission towards the cost of maintaining a ward for the treatment of native Solomon Islanders in a mission hospital. It was a tribute to the work of faithful native guides.
When command of 8 Brigade reverted to the division on 16 November, Barrowclough, on an island midway through the Solomons, controlled a force the elements of which were scattered from the Treasury Group to New Caledonia, a distance of 1500 miles. Units of 14 Brigade were disposed tactically at sites round the coast of Vella Lavella, from which they patrolled the intervening country and maintained their supply line with Divisional Headquarters by using landing barges round the coast. One such journey ended in disaster on 5 December when a captured Japanese barge, operated by the engineers, ran on a reef while transporting a padre and his party to Tambama. Three American aircraft shot it up, killing Corporal J. J. Tod,76 who died of wounds, and Sapper F. L. Knipe.77 Exhaustive inquiries revealed that one of the pilots was afterwards killed in action and another wounded.
Units remained so dispersed until the year's end, when they were withdrawn and concentrated in the brigade area along the coast between Ruravai and Juno River, with 30 Battalion scattered from Mumia to Supato and Malasova, from which companies departed periodically to undertake jungle and landing exercises on Baga Island. Eighth Brigade units remained similarly disposed, though not so widely scattered, on Mono and Stirling Islands, where they stayed until the division was withdrawn from the Solomons.
In the Treasuries all activity centred on Stirling Island, where an airfield was constructed with such urgency that machinery and equipment were flown from distant supply bases and dropped by parachute. Emergency landings were made there on 17 December, when the first machine overturned on the lumpy surface, but by the
end of the month it was a 7000 ft. runway of blinding coral which, with revetments, repair shops put together like Meccano sets, supply and petrol dumps, occupied more than half the island. The airstrip ended with a drop over a 70 ft. cliff. What few clumps of jungle remained after the airfield was completed concealed food and supply depots and the huts and tents of the island's busy inhabitants. Japan's final gesture of defiance in the Treasuries was made on the night of 12–13 January 1944, when the airfield and its environs on Stirling was heavily bombed, but without doing any great damage. At the western end of the island Brigade and Island Command headquarters were agreeably sheltered by a few giant trees, all that remained of the thickets of jungle through which the staff had pushed and slashed their way to set up the tented offices of headquarters on the day of the landing.
This clearance of camp areas when hostilities ceased was one of the more urgent tasks as each island was secured, and also a revelation of the New Zealanders' passion for tidying up, even in the jungle. Trees and undergrowth, their overhead concealment no longer necessary, disappeared, and with them went the mud, most of the insects, and the gloom, followed by a gratifying uplift in morale. Associated with this clearance was the engineers' roading programme, always a most comprehensive one since it involved the removal of tracts of forest, the bridging of tidal streams and rivers, as well as the construction of wharves, all of which confirmed Barrowclough's wisdom in asking for three field companies for such a campaign. Such roading was also essential for the speedy distribution of supplies and the linking of defences and services.
As commanding general of the Northern Landing Force, Barrowclough not only commanded 3 Division but was responsible for the administration and tactical disposition of all Allied forces in his area. On Vella Lavella, by 25 October, the total Allied strength numbered 17,000, fluctuating as American units of the Marine Amphibious Corps moved to and from the battlefront on Bougainville after the landing there. By 26 October aircraft stationed on Barakoma, from which air cover for the Treasury landing had operated, were using 27,000 gallons of petrol a day, rising to 30,000 gallons at the end of the month, all of it brought forward from Guadalcanal and other bases in landing craft in 53-gallon drums and manhandled ashore.
Motor torpedo boats, powerful craft which attained a speed of 40 knots, were at this time using 250 drums of petrol each night as they hunted the enemy along his supply lanes between the islands. The record consumption of petrol (or ‘avgas’ as the Americans called it) in one day, reached during the Bougainville landing
operations, was 143,000 gallons. Food supplies to maintain these two island garrisons (that on the Treasuries rose to 8000 with the arrival of construction battalions for the airfield) also arrived by landing craft until the Treasury Group was secured, after which cargo ships were permitted as far forward as Vella Lavella. The first of these, a refrigerated ship, arrived on 31 October with a cargo of fresh foods, including 22,035 lb. of beef, 1400 lb. of lamb, 9113 lb. of potatoes, 310 lb. of celery, 4100 lb. of apples and 2210 lb. of butter, which was speedily distributed to prevent deterioration in the heat. Five refrigerator units, with a storage space of 65,000 cubic feet, arrived in November and enabled fresh foods to held over long periods. Such was the organisation of supplies throughout the Solomons that for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day sufficient turkeys arrived in supply ships, rather cynically termed the ‘turkey express’, to provide a most generous ration for all members of these island garrisons. Such fresh foods, however, were necessary for the maintenance of both health and moral in that debilitating climate.
New Zealand soldiers in the Solomons campaign established a record low sickness rate from malaria, though during the planning stage allowances were made for a high percentage of manpower wastage from it. During the operational period, of the 13,784 officers and men who went forward into the zone in which it was prevalent, only 3.19 per cent contracted malaria, many after they left the forward zone. Anti-malarial precautions, coupled with hygiene and sanitation, were one phase of tropical warfare in which vigilance was never relaxed. A ruthless insistence on obedience of orders concerning these precautions and a high sense of responsibility among individuals combined to keep down the sickness rate to a level previously thought impossible. The American forces in the early days of the campaign, particularly on Guadalcanal, suffered disastrously until a precautionary drill was established.
The division's No. 1 Malaria Control Unit, first commanded by Major N. H. North and later by Major D. McK. Jack, waged ceaseless battle against the mosquito and its breeding haunts. Round all camp sites and unit areas trained personnel carried out a strict routine programme. All damp undergrowth was removed, moist and swampy areas and other breeding places were sprayed with oil—even the ruts of wheel tracks after rain. In the Treasury islands, particularly on Stirling Island, the removal of undergrowth also eliminated a minute insect, the bites of which produced a maddening itch and raised the sickness rate. In actual combat, when nets were impracticable, the men rubbed exposed parts of the body with repellent oil and each man carried this own supply of
atebrin tablets. The division was also fortunate in having on its medical staff Colonel E. G. Sayers,78 a former medical missionary who had been stationed in the Solomons, who had been transferred from 2 NZEF in the Middle East to be Consultant in Tropical Diseases. The 6th Field Hygiene Section, under Major R. M. Irwin,79 was equally vigilant in preventing disease and combating the spread of malaria and dengue fevers, skin disease, and dysentery. When possible, hygiene personnel were included in the first troops making a beach landing. Their primary duties were to establish emergency latrines and to arrange rubbish dumping areas. Sanitary policing of any newly occupied area or beach-head was most important, as gross fouling could occur in the first hour ashore. The disposal of garbage to prevent the carriage of disease by flies was usually accomplished by dumping it down chutes into the sea, which turned each disposal area into a haunt for fisherman in search of big game, or by burning. More unpleasant was the task of disposing of dead Japanese after an engagement. If this was not solved by the use of a bulldozer, the corpses were dumped into the sea from barges. After the action on Nissan Island, Irwin, a strong swimmer, disposed of seventy dead Japanese by towing them behind him with ropes, two at a time, into deep water when the barge stuck on the coral reef. These tasks, important to the conduct of an army, assumed greater importance in the Solomons, where tropical diseases were rife and hygiene control most essential to the healthy occupation of islands over a period of months or even years.
A considerable amount of experimental work was accomplished by services during the waiting periods, particularly by Signals, whose maintenance and installation work was especially arduous. Electrical storms played tricks with the radio network which linked up the islands, and in the jungle itself moisture affected the efficiency of sets never designed for service in such damp, enclosed country. Many of the difficulties with field sets were overcome when Major P. Barcham, of the Signals Experimental Establishment of Army Headquarters, arrived on Vella Lavella and carried out technical experiments with Burns80 and his officers, from whom he collected information useful for the design of signals equipment in tropical territory.
The long intervals between actions, though ceaseless with administrative work for the staffs of headquarters, led to considerable
boredom among the men. Training and routine garrison duties could not compensate for their complete isolation in a climate which left them listless and restless. There was little to do during leisure hours except for those individuals with initiative and sufficient energy to drive themselves into activity of both mind and body. There were no towns to visit, no leave centres, not even a village and rarely a house. The only alternative to looking at a wall of verdant jungle, interesting enough until familiarity bred violent objection by all except ardent naturalists, was to turn about face and look at the sea, a more attractive prospect because the outlines of islands, far and near, gave it variety. During these periods and the Army Education and Welfare Service provided profitable employment for those who wished to study. From its base headquarters in an ancient building in New Caledonia, a flow of material passed to the unit officers—Lieutenant H. C. Veitch, Divisional headquarters; Lieutenant J. L. H. Hewland, 8 Brigade; Lieutenant A. A. Congalton, 14 Brigade; and Lieutenant N. H. Buchanan, Base—who put it to good use in both entertainment and instruction. This service, of which the first director was Major A. H. Thom, controlled and organised study courses, rehabilitation, discussion groups, unit libraries, cinemas, the concert party, and the force newspaper Kiwi, which was produced on a vintage plant in Bourail and flown to forward areas for distribution.
The construction of motion picture theatres was simplicity itself. Areas of coconut palm and jungle were felled by the engineers and tree trunks arranged in rows as seats, with the screen suspended between two remaining upright trees. Here the audience sat under the stars or in the rain, watching films which gave them relief from a monotonous daily round. Scattered units each had their own 16-millimetre projectors and were rarely without regular film entertainment. Hobbies were encouraged and quite a business developed by enterprising craftsmen, who fashioned bracelets and necklaces and other articles of chunky jewellery from sea shells and sold them to American troops at considerable profit.
Fourteenth Brigade set a precedent by organising an exhibition of handcrafts, later sending a remarkable collection of articles to New Zealand, where it was displayed publicly. There were 294 exhibits and 505 dollars in prize money. Metal and plastic glass from wrecked aeroplanes, shells, nuts, palm and jungle woods were all used with skill and imagination. Similar crafts were encouraged by 8 Brigade, which also promoted yachting and boating on the calm waters of Blanche Harbour. The concert party, directed by Warrant Officer R. Sayers, toured from island to island for months at a time, playing to both New Zealand and American
units on open-air stages and maintaining a standard of entertainment all the more remarkable because of its resourcefulness.
Unit padres and YMCA officials contributed to the well-being of the men, each according to his ability and personality. The amount of cheer some of these men brewed with their tea could not be measured in gallons, particularly in action. Neither mud nor rain extinguished the primuses of Padres J. W. Parker and G. D. Falloon, who were only two of the division's team which included Padre K. Liggett, the first senior chaplain and an able musician, Padre E. O. Sheild, O. T. Baragwanath, and J. C. Pierce.81 The popularity as a social centre of Padre G. R. Thompson's tent under the palms at divisional Headquarters can be assessed by the 700 cups of tea provided daily for its callers.82 The former residence of Gill's plantation owner, the only European house remaining intact on Vella Lavella, was taken over and made into a rest house presided over by Mr. S. R. Knapp of the YMCA. Anyone passing along the main highway called there for tea and a glance at the newspapers, some of which had been flown from New Zealand a few days previously.
There was never any shortage of visitors to headquarters, all of them travelling by air in a service which ran with a regularity disturbed only by violent electrical storms. His Excellency the Governor-General, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Cyril Newall, arrived on 17 November and presented decorations won in action by members of 14 Brigade at a ceremony held in Joroveto village, long since deserted by the natives but now containing dumps for ASC supplies and engineer equipment. Lieutenant D. J. Law commanded a guard of honour of selected six-footers, six from each company of 37 Battalion, in this first presentation of battle honours to members of the division. Accompanied by Barrowclough, who had flown to Guadalcanal to meet him, the Governor-General toured all units on Vella Lavella, moving round the coast in a landing barge, after which he went on a similar mission to 8 Brigade in the
Treasuries. On his way back to Guadalcanal he visited the RNZAF squadrons stationed at Ondonga, in the New Georgia Group. Major-General J. S. Lethbridge, head of a British mission seeking information on jungle warfare and equipment, called on Barrowclough and his staff officers for discussions on lessons learned in action. Halsey arrived on 11 November, the 25th anniversary of the 1914–18 Armistice, on one of his frequent visits to the forward zone to discuss with commanders future operations in the drive to Rabaul, round which the pincers were closing as the Pacific strategical pattern unfolded.
On 21 November, on the right flank of the vast Pacific theatre, American forces landed on Tarawa and Makin Islands, in the north of the Gilbert Group, thus beginning the thrust into the fortress islands of the Marshalls. Almost equally distant on the left flank, MacArthur's forces were pressing successfully along the northern coast of New Guinea, where Lae, Salamaua, and Finschhafen had fallen, and preparations were advanced for the first move on to the island of New Britain on 26 December. Halsey, thrusting up through the Solomons, was then planning his next move to cut enemy traffic north of Bougainville, establish airfields to cover further advances forward, and end the Solomons campaign.
Far-reaching changes followed Barrowclough's decision, taken on 28 November and executed in December, to retire all officers of more than 41 years of age unless their retention was justified by some special qualification. Many of the officers who returned to New Zealand had been with the force since Fiji days. Goss came up from Guadalcanal and succeeded Row as commander 8 Brigade, which the took over on 4 December. Allan went to 36 battalion as second-in-command and was replaced as GSO 2 by MacArthur from 8 Brigade. Major D. C. Williams was appointed DAAG in succession to Marshall; Reidy took over command of 34 Battalion from Eyre, Major B. H. Pringle succeeded McKenzie-Muirson as commander 36 Battalion, and Major J. F. Moffatt took over 35 Battalion from Seaward, all three of them being promoted. Major H. A. Wernham, 34 Battalion, succeeded Logan as commander of 8 Brigade MMG Company. Major L. E. Pithie replaced Major G. W. Waddell as brigade major 14 Brigade, Bracewell taking over a similar appointment on 8 Brigade staff. Tennent returned to New Zealand and was succeeded by Sayers at 4 New Zealand General Hospital in New Caledonia. Major F. G. Barrowclough was promoted and took command of 22 Field Ambulance from Shirer. These changes and the promotions which followed them gave effect to the commander's desire to revitalise the force, before further action, with younger men, and to exchange officers from the Base
Training Depot in New Caledonia with those who could be rested from the combat areas.
Changes also followed at the Field Maintenance Centre on Guadalcanal when Rear Divisional Headquarters ceased to function on 13 December. Elements of artillery, engineers, medical, and ASC passed to the respective heads of those services and all remaining troops came under command of FMC, now established in an area off Wright's Road. There sufficient buildings had been erected to house the increasing quantities of ordnance supplies and stores required in the forward zone and to accommodate troops going to and returning from the combat areas by surface craft and air.
As in all other areas occupied by units of the division, a roading programme by the engineers vastly improved it, particularly round the Casualty Clearing Station at Point Cruz, where tented wards had given way to more permanent wooden buildings, each one erected in ten days by members of 37 Field Park. The environs of this hospital, where flower gardens had been developed and young palms lined the paths and roadways, became the show place of Guadalcanal. An event of some importance, since they were the first women to reach the forward zone and had a considerable effect on morale, was the arrival of eight New Zealand nursing sisters from 4 New Zealand General Hospital in New Caledonia to join the staff—Charge Sisters Joyce Sexton and R. J. Ward, Sisters D. H. Hoyte, H. B. Foster, M. S. Farland, J. G. Galloway, A. M. McLachlan, and M. G. Gwilliam. Dental services attached to the station included No. 2 Maxillo-Facial Injury Section under Major S. N. Jolly.
Christmas came and with it a week of organised sport by all formations—swimming, wood-chopping (despite the climate), athletics, boating, mechanical horse-racing, and such other entertainment as could be improvised by ingeniously minded regimental committees. Natives on Vella Lavella recovered their magnificently decorated war canoes from hiding places in the jungle and rowed them with joyous vigour in a regatta. The concert party and the divisional band both contributed programmes regardless of the hour, and army cooks vied with each other in producing Christmas Day dinners, whipping up appetites with turkey and special foods which were a change from the dehydrated ingredients of the army ration. Halsey sent a Christmas message, generously worded in adjectives which a British commander would hesitate to use, which began, ‘To all hands of my South Pacific jungle-smashing, sea-sweeping, sky-blazing crew. ...’
The scene at Malsi, Mono Island, on Boxing Day 1943 was an interesting comment on the Solomons campaign, when long periods of consolidation and preparation were necessary while airfields and naval bases were constructed and the necessary craft made available for another long leap forward. There, on a beach of creamy coral sand, hundreds of New Zealanders and Americans, restricted by the least possible amount of clothing, and brown as nuts, watched the events of an athletic carnival and sideshows rivalling those of an agricultural show at home, or invested their dollars on a busy totalisator between events. Not a gun or a weapon of war was in sight. High overhead squadrons of aircraft droned in the heavy air, going to and returning from their bombing missions. Fewer than twenty miles away across the water, columns of billowing smoke rose from Japanese airfields and installations on and around the Shortland Islands, indicating where the bombers had found their targets.
On 30 December Barrowclough, on receipt of a signal from Wilkinson, left by air for Guadalcanal to attend a conference on the division's next task, the capture and occupation of the Green Islands Group, only 117 miles from Rabaul, 280 miles north of Vella Lavella, and 530 miles from Guadalcanal.
IV: The Capture of Green Islands
The Green Islands Group, a coral atoll lying midway between Rabaul and Buka and only four degrees south of the Equator, served as a staging depot for Japanese barge traffic operating between those two bases to maintain the enemy garrison contained on Bougainville. It consisted of Nissan, the largest island (and one by which the group is generally known) and two smaller ones, Barahun and Sirot, these three forming an oval of hard coral enclosing a deep, sheltered lagoon to which there are only two navigable entrances, both very narrow. Hon, a wooded dot of coral, sits in the middle of this lagoon, and lying north of the group is another atoll named Pinipel. Except for two coconut plantations, a deserted mission station and a few native clearings, the islands are clothed in dense forest. There are no streams and no supplies of fresh water, but heavy rain falls at some time almost every day. Along the outer coast of Nissan Island, inside the reef, boulder-strewn beaches rise to coral cliffs in places sixty feet high and often pitted with deep caves. Inside the lagoon, forest trees overhang much of the shelving coastline, which rarely rises to more than a few feet but provides only a few easily accessible beaches.
The Japanese command in Rabaul, 8 Area Army, realised that the loss of the Green Islands Group would provide the Allies with an excellent site for an airfield from which to attack Rabaul and their other bases in New Britain and New Ireland, but beyond giving orders to a small garrison of twelve naval lookouts and an army unit of eighty all ranks to maintain a strict watch, the commander did nothing to fortify the group. Barges using it as a staging base sheltered in the lagoon by day, moving only by night on the journey between Rabaul and Buka.
Although another island base was required by the South Pacific Command to keep the attack rolling forward and contain Rabaul, the decision to occupy the group was not reached without some difference of opinion. In March 1943 the Joint Chiefs of Staff had revised their orders of 2 July 1942 and directed that all operations against Rabaul by both the South and South West Pacific forces would be conducted under the supervision of MacArthur, whose directives were to be followed in all related tasks. From then on, therefore, Halsey had set about neutralising enemy airfields north and south of Bougainville as his forces thrust upward through the Solomons, until they were established on Bougainville itself.
During a conference at Port Moresby on 20 December 1943 with members of Halsey's staff, MacArthur, eager then to complete the encirclement of Rabaul and move on to the Admiralty Group, suggested the seizure of the Green Islands as a base on which airfields could be constructed. Wilkinson, mindful of the Joint Chiefs of Staff indication in their directive to neutralise Kavieng, on the northern tip of New Ireland, favoured Borpop, on the mainland of New Ireland, or Boang Island, 60 miles north-west of Green Islands, since they were both closer to the objective though more difficult to cover by land-based aircraft from established airfields. On the advice of Colonel W. E. Riley, his war plans officer, Halsey overruled Wilkinson's suggestion in favour of the occupation of Green Islands, because a landing there could be supported by aircraft operating from airfields inside the perimeter at Empress Augusta Bay and the Stirling field in the Treasuries. The group was also within easier reach of Rabaul, only 117 miles to the west. Halsey was also eager to establish motor torpedo boat bases to sever the Japanese supply lines to their remaining isolated garrisons in Bougainville, and the Green Islands appeared to offer the better facilities. He therefore directed Wilkinson to proceed with tentative plans for the seizure and occupation of the group and suggested that the New Zealand Division be used for the task.
Barrowclough, accompanied by Brooke and Bennett, attended a conference at Wilkinson's headquarters on Guadalcanal on 31
December, when the objectives of the operation were outlined, given the code name of Squarepeg, and the date of the landing provisionally fixed for 25 January.
The task involved a difficult amphibious landing and, as soon as the group was occupied, the construction of two airfields, the establishment of a naval and motor torpedo boat base, and the installation of radar stations. Operational command was vested in Barrowclough who, after the landing was consolidated, would become island commander. He decided to employ 14 Brigade and strengthen his force by including 144 Independent Battery and the Tank Squadron, neither of which had been employed in action since their arrival on Guadalcanal some months earlier. Information concerning the Green Islands Group, however, was too unreliable and insufficient on which to base a hazardous expedition. Most of it was taken from air photographs. Former resident were scattered, and no coastwatchers had been hidden on this isolated group. Nothing was known of the Japanese garrison, and a native population of 1500 was thought, quite wrongly as events proved, to favour the enemy. This vital lack of information was to be overcome by sending in a strong reconnaissance party at least ten days before the landing. Harmon, who was present at the initial conference, promised to intensity both air and naval cover over the group during the period between the reconnaissance and the invasion should the Japanese garrison, alarmed by Allied activity, call for reinforcements from Rabaul.
After issuing a warning order to Potter, Barrowclough returned to Vella Lavella by air on New Year's Day and that evening discussed the forthcoming operations at a conference with the brigade commander, the divisional staff, and heads of services. Potter assigned 30 Battalion for the reconnaissance which, for security reasons, was described as a commando raid. The following day the divisional commander flew to the Treasuries, informed Goss that his brigade would be in reserve for the forthcoming operation, presented decorations won during the seizure of the Treasury Group, and returned to Vella Lavella that afternoon in readiness to move to Guadalcanal on 3 January. Only by the use of aircraft was Barrowclough able to cover such engagements throughout his scattered command or periodically visit New Caledonia, as he did the following week to discuss hospital construction and problems of administration with Dove.
Although the Green Islands operation followed the pattern of the division's two former tasks, it was much larger in scope than either of them and required an immense amount of detailed planning, much of it based on incomplete knowledge of conditions likely
to be encountered. In the early stages it was hampered by changes in the invasion date, which affected not only the army planners but also the naval and air force units with which the whole operation was so closely co-ordinated. On 4 January Barrowclough was informed that the operation had been postponed until 1 February, which meant a corresponding postponement of the raid, since only ten days were to elapse between the two events. The following day a further postponement put the operation back to 15 February. Even this was in doubt until Halsey issued an order on 24 January confirming both the date and the locality.
Divisional Headquarters on Vella Lavella closed on 5 January and moved back to Guadalcanal to be within easy working distance of Wilkinson's headquarters during the planning period, since constant consultation between the three services on final details was essential to success. Heads of services and skeleton staffs also moved back to Guadalcanal over a period of weeks as each came into the picture, command of Vella eventually passing to the Sixth (US) Island Command on 19 January. Meanwhile, working from air photographs, preliminary planning for both the raid and the landing were started by 14 Brigade, which remained at its old site in Gill's plantation. The first really accurate information which paved the way for the raid was obtained on the night of 10 January, when a special naval party in two American motor torpedo boats surveyed without detection the two lagoon entrances and found that the southern channel between Barahun and Nissan Islands was sixteen feet deep and forty to fifty feet wide. It would therefore take the larger landing craft, including heavy LSTs.
The Green Island landing, a model of accurate and detailed planning by a divisional staff now experienced by former operations, avoided former faults and deficiencies. It was freely admitted that for once in military operations the A and Q department played a more important part than G, with whom there is inevitably a little professional rivalry. ‘From conception to completion I consider that the Green Island project was a remarkably fine operation,’ Halsey afterwards recorded in the report on the seizure of the group. Primarily the operation became a supply and engineering problem in distributing men, supplies, and great quantities of heavy machinery and equipment over a modest armada of landing craft, and so arranged that if one was destroyed its loss would not endanger or menace the success of the whole undertaking.
Conditions were exacting and complicated the planning, since units and their equipment had to be uplifted from islands hundreds of miles apart—American units from Tulagi, the Russells, and Ondonga, a base in the New Georgia Group; New Zealand units
from Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella, and the Treasury Group. A total of 5806 officers and men (New Zealand 4242; USA 1564) and 4344 tons of supplies and equipment, including a special reserve of 2000 tons of fresh water in tins and five days' supply of food for 1500 natives, were distributed over eight APDs, thirteen LCIs, seven LSTs, and six LCTs. Numbers and quantities were worked out meticulously for each landing craft, some of which carried bulldozers for the construction of vehicular ramps to the shore should difficulties be encountered on the beaches. Others carried trestle bridges as a further precaution should deep water prevent the bulldozers from reaching land. Navy also provided a tug to pull landing craft off the coral banks should they block the channel, and two repair ships, one for motor torpedo boats and another for the landing craft, to moor in the lagoon and avoid returning any breakdowns to distant bases.
Navy planned the movement of groups of landing craft so that the faster APDs carrying the assault troops overtook and passed through the slower craft to arrive off the island at dawn, the second wave in the LCIs half an hour later, the third wave in LSTs an hour after the assault troops, and a fourth wave in LCTs early in the afternoon. This arrangement of echelons enabled ships to disembark their complements with the greatest speed and depart from the area without confusion. All this separate movement was co-ordinated by the responsible United States navy and air representatives, since each element of the assaulting force required protection en route—seventeen destroyers for the landing craft and APDs, with a cruiser screen beyond, and air cover working in relays from Munda, Stirling, and Empress Augusta Bay as the convoys passed those island bases. Barrowclough and his senior staff officers maintained the closest liaison with their opposite numbers on the headquarters of Task Force 31, working to simplify on paper the mass of essential detail. The greatest amity existed between both commanders and staffs from the beginning to the end of the operation, despite problems which included the production of almost bi-lingual administrative orders containing such un-New Zealand paragraphs as those dealing with ‘pest control’ and ‘housekeeping’. Despite the use of the same language, the planners discovered that interpretation could be vastly different.
To cope with the increased volume of work a planning committee was established under Bennett, which consisted of his assistant, Gibbons, Williams (the DAAG), Captain H. M. Denton (staff captain, Q Branch), Silk—brought in from 8 Brigade because of his familiarity with intricate loading tables—and Captain H. J. W. Hewin, with Warrant Officer M. H. Henderson as their chief clerk.
Until precise information became available three plans were devised, each of them sufficiently fluid to enable any two to be discarded in favour of one selected at the last moment. Under the direction of Murray,83 the CRE, engineers of 37 Field Park, working from available data, constructed large-scale models84 of the group, with toy landing craft placed in the lagoon landing beaches when they were finally selected. This was only one indication of the attention given to detail by planners of all branches. Indeed, these models were much praised by the American command, which afterwards developed the idea and used it for their subsequent operations. A sand-table model on a scale of 1:3000 inches was also produced by the intelligence staff of 14 Brigade Headquarters and used in explaining the operation to the men of the assaulting battalions. At the conclusion of practice manoeuvers on the beach at Ruravai, every man was as familiar with the territory and his own particular task as maps, models, photographs, and instruction could make him.
Nothing, however, could be finalised until the information obtained during the boldly executed raid by 30 Battalion, decided for the night of 30–31 January, was collated and made known to the planners. Cornwall trained his men, 322 of them, on the Mumia and Juno River beaches, making them thoroughly conversant with their task of protecting groups of specialists and technicians—27 Americans and 11 New Zealanders—who were to report on the suitability of sites for airfields, landing beaches and approaches, naval and torpedo boat bases, and radar stations, as well as the rise and fall of the tides and the depth of the lagoon—all of which was to be gathered in the twenty-four hours allowed ashore. A member of the British Solomon Islands Administration, Lieutenant F. P. Archer, a former plantation owner from Buka Island who had avoided capture by hiding in the jungle until he was rescued by an American submarine, accompanied the raiders to interrogate the natives concerning the Japanese garrison and its activities. He spoke that curious language known as ‘pidgin’ and had been a visitor to the plantations of Nissan Island in pre-war days.
The raiding force, which consisted of A, C, and D Companies, one platoon of B Company, and attached sections of signals, mortars and intelligence, embarked in the APDs Waters, Talbot, and Dickerson on 29 January and practised a landing that night on Mumia Beach, after abandoning plans to land on the narrow,
jungle-enclosed Juno River beach because it could not be identified from the ships in the darkness.
Special precautions were taken to ensure direct communication with this expedition, moving far beyond the most northerly bridgehead in the Solomons, by the addition of a detachment from Divisional Signals under Second-Lieutenant R. H. C. Crawley. At first light on Sunday 30 January, the little convoy departed from Vella Lavella, moving via Gizo Strait and shepherded by four destroyers, one of which, USS Fullham, carried the Brigadier and his liaison officer, Captain D. M. Young. Two motor torpedo boats, for the protection of the landing craft in the lagoon, joined the convoy off Empress Augusta Bay, where the Fullham remained until the raid was over.
On the stroke of midnight the landing craft from the APDs passed through the entrance to the lagoon, shrouded in a night so dark it might have been prepared for such an undertaking. A rising sea had not hindered disembarkation in the open roadstead, but many of the men were sick. One of the motor torpedo boats led them in—twelve small landing craft in single file. With a sound like a deep sigh they slid up on the sandy beach of the Pokonian Plantation, a few hundred yards to the right inside the entrance to the lagoon, to await the dawn and form a defence perimeter inside which Cornwall established his headquarters. In thirty minutes everyone was ashore and digging foxholes as silently as the sound of vigorously employed shovels hissing through the sand would permit.
Before seven o'clock next morning the technicians and specialists left on their missions, each group protected by its armed screen. Major A. B. Bullen85 commanded the party which crossed the lagoon to investigate airfield sites in the Tangalan Plantation, Lieutenant F. R. Allen86 that which examined the Barahun Island beaches, and Captain F. R. M. Watson those who reported on the Pokonian area. Natives came forward with information for Archer that enemy strength was between fifty and sixty, but there was no opposition to the technical parties as they gathered and recorded their information in a silence broken only by the soft chugging of landing craft.
Meanwhile, Commander J. MacDonald Smith, USN, with three landing craft, sought suitable landing beaches for the LSTs and LCIs around the lagoon coast. Accompanying him were members
of the battalion reconnaissance party, under Lieutenant P. O'Dowd,87 which went ashore at the deserted mission station at the south end of the lagoon, disturbed by nothing more than strange voices in the nearby jungle which they said came from natives. On the return journey to Pokonian soon after nine o'clock, Smith, searching the coastline through binoculars, picked up the outline of a camouflaged barge hidden under the overhanging branches and decided to investigate. As his landing craft touched the sand under the
branches, close beside two barges, Japanese concealed and watching in the undergrowth only a few feet away poured machine-gun fire into it. In as many seconds 50 per cent of the occupants of the craft were either killed or wounded. Because of the absence of opposition, the customary vigilance had obviously been relaxed. Caught in overhanging branches, the machine guns of the landing craft pointed skywards and were out of action for those few seconds which really mattered. The American coxswain and gunner were killed by the first bursts, as was another gunner who leaped forward to take the place of his dead companion. Three of the reconnaissance party were wounded, including O'Dowd, who died later in the day. Two native guides were also wounded but not seriously. One Japanese was shot out of a tree. Branches snipped off by bullets fell into the landing craft and fed the confusion. Private J. H. Jefferis,88 a member of O'Dowd's party, courageously shot back into the wall of leaves with his rifle, a meritorious act which earned him the Military Medal. Under covering fire of the other two craft, which swung their machine guns into action as soon as they realised what had happened, Smith, although wounded, took the coxswain's place and retracted the boat from the beach after two agonising attempts had failed.
Later that afternoon, when all the reconnaissance parties returned to the perimeter, the area was strafed with mortars and a counter-attack planned, using a platoon from Bullen's company on each flank with Smith leading a frontal attack from landing craft. Although the men had been landed in the flank, the attack was frustrated by six Japanese aircraft which strafed and bombed the landing craft just as Smith began to move in to land. Machine guns, one of them manned by Private W. T. A. Aylward,89 drove off the attacking enemy planes. Reports obtained long afterwards disclosed that seventeen Japanese were killed by mortar fire during the strafing. Fearing that enemy aircraft might return and bomb the beach, Cornwall decided to withdraw his raiders and shelter the barges along the coast of Barahun Island until the midnight rendezvous with the APDs. Only one mishap marred the return journey. A 10-foot swell made the transfer from landing craft to APDs most difficult, taking hours to accomplish in the darkness, and an American officer was crushed between barge and ship as he embarked. By 4 p. m. the following day the raiding party returned to Vella Lavella, its mission successfully completed with the loss of four killed (one New Zealander, three Americans) and five wounded (two New Zealanders, three Americans).
The raiders were not observed by the Japanese garrison until their landing craft began moving across the lagoon to Tangalan Plantation. South East Area Headquarters in Rabaul received the information at 9 a. m. on 31 January that Allied forces had landed on Nissan, and ordered an immediate attack by six bomber-equipped fighter aircraft and a counter-attack by an amphibious force transported in two submarines, but constant air raids on Rabaul, as promised by Harmon, made the preparation of these counter measures extremely difficult. The air attack, which was not pressed with any great determination, took place late in the afternoon, just as Smith was moving his landing craft into attack near the scene of the morning ambush. The Japanese claimed to have sunk ‘one of six motor torpedo boats on the lagoon’ and set two others on fire. However, no craft were lost by the raiders though several were badly shot up.
That evening, while Cornwall's men were sheltering off Barahun, the Japanese garrison despatched another message asking for reinforcements, stating that they were under attack and that their losses were heavy. They proposed to burn their code books that night. The following night the garrison fled north to the Feni Islands, using three landing barges which had been reported by a New Zealand reconnaissance aircraft flying over the island on the day of the raid. Meanwhile two submarines, carrying 123 members of the Wada Company, left Rabaul at midday on 1 February and arrived off the north-east coast of Nissan Island at midnight, but the rising storm which hindered the embarkation of Cornwall's raiders made the task of disembarkation so difficult that only 77 members of the Wada Company reached the shore over the coral reef. The remainder returned to Rabaul. When some of the original garrison returned from the Feni Islands on 5 February, after concluding that the group had not been occupied, the two parties joined and made their headquarters in caves south of the Pokonian Plantation, later moving most of the garrison to the mission area. At that time the garrison numbered 102, but was increased by a small undetermined reinforcement from Rabaul before the actual seizure of the group.
Once possessed of accurate information gathered during the reconnaissance raid, which was quickly disseminated to all commanders, the final preparations were planned with confidence during the next fortnight. Engineers made the landing plan still more precise by attaching to their model of Green Islands small accurately numbered miniatures of the craft on each beach for which they were destined on D-day.
After his plans had been approved by Wilkinson's headquarters, Barrowclough issued his final operation order on 4 February. This was followed on 5 February by Wilkinson's operation order 2–44, an immense document defining the tasks and organisation of all navy, army and air units taking part, not only for the seizure of the group but for all subsequent echelons. In accordance with American procedure, the orders of subordinate commanders were incorporated in detail in those of the higher command, a system which hampers to some degree any last-minute changes dictated by tactical necessity. Then, on 7 February, Barrowclough flew to Vella Lavella for final discussions on Potter's operational plan for the assault. This involved landing three battalions of his brigade to occupy and consolidate the two plantation areas on Nissan Island, establish blocks each night from coast to coast, and successively clear sectors each day until the whole island was free of the enemy. The 30th Battalion, already familiar with the locality, was assigned to the Pokonian Plantation and the southern tip of Barahun Island, thus securing the entrance to the lagoon; 35 and 37 Battalions were to cross the lagoon and land simultaneously in the Tangalan Plantation—the 35th on the right flank, the 37th on the left—and clear that area before the arrival of the LSTs carrying radar and earthmoving equipment.
Elaborate precautions were taken against counter-attack from Rabaul and provided for immediate naval and air support in any threatened zone.90 Beaches were again given their colour names and four ASC officers, Captains J. F. B. Wilson, G. N. Somerville, J. Sykes and D. R. Hopkins, appointed assistant beachmasters to control supplies and equipment as they were unloaded. Assault troops carried neither steel helmets nor gas respirators, and anti-tank rifles were discarded because they were difficult to handle in the dense jungle. The battalion combat team, which had tended to develop a multiplicity of commands during operations on Vella Lavella, was also dropped, but 35 and 37 Battalions were each allotted a troop of tanks. By 12 February the movement north began with the departure of the slower craft from their various island bases. The following day the LCIs and LSTs reached Vella Lavella to continue loading from the beaches where the men and material awaited them. That evening the landing craft lay off the island on a sea so calm that no line divided the reflected sunset glory from the heavens
which produced it. The APDs followed on 14 February, embarked the assault battalions and practised a landing before they, too, steamed north to overtake the rest of the force.
Divisional Headquarters closed on Guadalcanal on 13 February when Barrowclough and his personal assistant, Lieutenant J. T. Collin, embarked in USS Halford, in which Wilkinson and his staff also travelled. They watched the rehearsal off the coast the following day before joining the last convoy. By this time, after a voyage devoid of incident, groups of slower craft had joined off the west coast of Bougainville, ready to make the rest of the journey together under cover of darkness and reach the rendezvous off the entrance to the Green Islands lagoon at dawn, synchronising their arrival with that of the slow APDs.
The following units landed on Nissan Island on 15 February:
Divisional Commander (Maj-Gen H. E. Barrowclough)
GSO 1 (Col J. I. Brooke)
AA & QMG (Lt-Col P. L. Bennett, MC)
3 Defence and Employment Platoon (Capt W. G. Rutherford)
4 Field Security Section (Capt D. Lawford)
Divisional Signals (Lt-Col D. McN. Burns)
Headquarters Company (Maj G. W. Heatherwick)
No. 1 Company (Maj J. K. H. Clark, who succeeded Maj K. H. Wilson, MC, in December)
No. 2 Company (Capt T. C. Eady)
No. 3 Company (Capt G. M. Parkhouse)
Divisional Artillery (Brig C. S. J. Duff, DSO)
17 Field Regiment (Lt-Col B. Wicksteed)
29 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, two batteries (Lt-Col W. S. McKinnon)
144 Independent Battery (Maj G. R. Powles)
53 Anti-Tank Battery, two troops (Maj L. J. Fahey)
4 Survey Troop (Capt N. R. Sanderson)
Tank Squadron (Maj R. J. Rutherford)
Divisional Engineers (Lt-Col A. Murray)
20 Field Company (Maj W. G. McKay)
26 Field Company (Maj W. L. Mynott)
Detachment 37 Field Park (Lt L. G. Taylor-Cannon)
Army Service Corps (Lt-Col C. A. Blazey)
16 MT Company (Maj C. McL. Brown)
Detachment 10 MT Company (Maj N. C. Moon)
Medical Services (Col N. C. Speight)
22 Field Ambulance (Lt-Col F. G. Barrowclough)
24 Field Ambulance (Lt-Col W. R. Fea)
No. 1 Field Surgical Unit (Maj P. C. E. Brunette)
Malaria Control Section (Maj R. G. S. Ferguson)
6 Field Hygiene Section (Maj R. M. Irwin)
10 Mobile Dental Section (Capt J. B. Muir)
14 Brigade Headquarters (Brig L. Potter)
Brigade Major (Maj L. E. Pithie)
Staff Captain (Capt G. C. C. Sandston)
Brigade Carrier Platoon (Capt J. F. B. Stronach)
Brigade Machine Gun Company (Maj L. A. S. Ross)
30 Battalion (Lt-Col F. C. Cornwall, MC)
35 Battalion (Lt-Col J. F. Moffatt)
37 Battalion (Lt-Col A. H. L. Sugden)
Under command were American services and units, the principal of which were a navy base and units commanded by Captain H. A. Rochester, USN; three naval construction battalions under Commander C. H. Whyte, USNR; an air centre and units commanded by Brigadier-General Field Harris; and 967 US Anti-Aircraft Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. E. Moore, afterwards made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Dawn in the tropics is invariably a spectacle which fades as quickly as it flowers; 15 February was no exception. Piles of rose-tinted clouds mounted in a jade sky, and along the horizon heavier cloud banks were slashed with shining gold. As the light strengthened, the ships of the force were revealed over the calm sea, spreading out for miles inside the circle of screening destroyers, with two task forces, one commanded by Rear-Admiral W. L. Ainsworth and the other by Rear-Admiral A. S. Merrill, still farther out. Nissan Island lay like a dark smudge on the water. Coming in at high speed, the APDs passed through the slower ships to rendezvous off the tip of Barahun. Behind them the great silver bellies of captive balloons, trailed by the LSTs as a protection against dive-bombers, glinted as they caught the first beams of the sun. High overhead an umbrella of aircraft from Vice-Admiral Aubrey Fitch's command held off the Japanese attack, though a few machines did break through because of some confusion of the ships' radar screens.
Japanese headquarters in Rabaul were informed of the approach of the invasion force by a reconnaissance aircraft, which picked it up off the coast of Bougainville at dusk on the evening of 14 February, and reported that ‘a large convoy of thirty transports and eighteen cruisers and destroyers’ was heading north. Thirty-two Japanese aircraft were ordered to maintain an attack through the night, in relays, but the main attack did not develop until dawn, when LST 466 received slight damage from a bomb and the United States cruiser St. Louis, one of the screening cruisers, received a direct hit. These were the only two ship casualties, neither of them serious. As usual the Japanese claims were excessive—one transport sunk, two cruisers, one destroyer, and three transports damaged by near misses. The Japanese command recorded the loss of twelve
of their aircraft, including the reconnaissance plane which shadowed the convoy through the night.
While the Japanese attempted to press their air attack on the widespread target of landing craft, the lagoon, so still that any movement shirred great stretches of rain-grey water, became the setting for activity it had never previously known. First to break the morning calm was a minesweeper at 6.10 a. m., after clearing the narrow entrance channel. At 6.41 a. m. the assault troops were down the nets of the APDs, and the first flight of thirty-two landing craft, led by a motor torpedo boat and an LCI gunboat, all in single file since they could move in no other formation, were on their way to the beaches. Circling above them was a special liaison aircraft, used for the first time that day, to acquaint the task force commander in Halford of the progress of the landing and, if necessary, direct gunfire against opposition. Not a shot was fired.
In two hours perimeters had been established with the perfection of a well-timed and executed manoeuvre. Potter and his staff went ashore in the second wave of assault troops and established advanced brigade headquarters in the Tangalan Plantation. As soon as the battalion patrols established their block lines beyond the bridgeheads, the LCIs beached, then the LCTs and finally, in the afternoon, the LSTs. Men and materials poured ashore as each wave of craft was cleared and retracted from the beaches to make way for the next. Carrying parties, 100 from each battalion, removed materials as they came ashore to prevent congestion on the beaches. By half past ten that morning Divisional Headquarters was established in the Pokonian Plantation, a dank site under the palms, made worse when seeping tide water turned it into a bog. The whole landing had been completed without hindrance or confusion. It was disturbed by only one outbreak of firing when a too-imaginative officer, examining the lagoon coast from the deck of an LCI, picked up the two barges destroyed during the 30 Battalion raid. All the armament from the LCI was turned on to them, to the bewilderment of 30 Battalion patrols working their way slowly through the jungle nearby.
On that first day the landing craft disgorged 58 jeeps, 67 trucks of various kinds, 44 guns (both field and anti-aircraft), 7 tractors, 8 bulldozers, 2 compressors, 10 radar installations of various types, 12 water-distilling plants ready for operation, 10 trailers, 2 wireless vans, 8 Valentine tanks, 426 tons of petrol in drums, 2000 gallons of fresh water in tins, and 267 tons of rations, in addition to vast quantities of personal and unit equipment. So smooth was the programme that the last of the LSTs was on its way back to Guadalcanal by 5.30 that afternoon, though some of the LCIs had
departed as early as 9.35 o'clock that morning. No raiding aircraft came to hinder this dawn to dusk activity.
Beginning at eight o'clock that morning New Zealand aircraft, as part of the South Pacific Air Command, assisted in maintaining a continuous cover over the island. No. 14 Squadron, RNZAF, commanded by Squadron Leader S. G. Quill,91 and No. 18 Squadron, commanded by Squadron Leader J. A. Oldfield, between them kept eight aircraft continuously over the island until dusk, flying sorties from the airfields at Empress Augusta Bay.
The intense activity on the beaches was reflected elsewhere as patrols pushed through the jungle, and by nightfall more than the original programme had been accomplished. Artillery regiments went to their allotted sites, in many instances along swathes cut through the undergrowth by bulldozers, and guns, both field and anti-aircraft, were ready for action by eleven o'clock in the morning. The only action, however, fell to 144 Independent Battery, which shot up some Japanese barges on the shore of Sirot Island. Immediately on landing Signals established a report centre in Tangalan area, linking by wireless the station at Divisional Headquarters on the opposite side of the lagoon. By two o'clock that afternoon Captain K. H. Barron92 had established wireless communication with Guadalcanal, the Treasuries, and Vella Lavella and, through that network, to New Zealand. Before nightfall all unit headquarters on the island were linked up and six miles of underwater cable had been laid across the lagoon. Engineers, both New Zealand and American, drove their earth-moving equipment straight off the landing craft to their appointed tasks, improving the landing beaches, gun and radar sites. When night came seven miles of road had been formed—rough but capable of taking trucks and jeeps. Jungle and palms toppled as the shining blades exposed reeking earth to the burning sun. When a few Japanese aircraft raided the island from Rabaul that night, they were picked up by radar installed only a few hours previously. The only casualties from this haphazard bombing were natives in a village near Tangalan Plantation. A briefer raid attempted the following night was driven off by anti-aircraft fire. Among the ground troops there was some indiscriminate shooting during the first few nights, provoked in the darkness by herds of marauding pigs, but there was no sign of the Japanese garrison.
Battalion patrols continued their advance early in the morning of 16 February, their progress in the Tangalan area made easier by the tanks, which moved with the speed of the men. Their presence
stimulated morale, and the tracks they crushed permitted the unimpeded progress of carrying parties with rations and water—and an occasional enterprising jeep carrying equipment. Engineer detachments under command laid booby traps along the block-lines each night, lifting them before the advance began the following morning.
Late on the afternoon of the second day, natives reported that an unspecified number of Japanese had taken refuge on the densely wooded island of Sirot, and the task of clearing the island was assigned to B Company, 30 Battalion, commanded by Captain D. Dalton.93 Since such skirmishes could never be taken lightly in the jungle, his unit was strengthened by the addition of No. 1 Platoon of the Machine Gun Company under Lieutenant E. H. Ryan,94 14 Brigade Defence and Employment Platoon under Lieutenant E. G. Taylor,95 and 4 Field Security Section under Captain D. Lawford.
This small expedition landed on the island the following morning after a seven-minute barrage by 144 Independent Battery, and patrols moved into the jungle on a front of 100 yards from a native village, intending to sweep the whole area. Taylor's platoon, on the left flank, soon made contact with the Japanese and took the brunt of the fighting in a sharp engagement fought out among the trees, vines, and undergrowth so thick that it was impossible to pinpoint the enemy or even estimate his strength. Corporal P. A. Davidson96 (his second name was Anzac), leader of Taylor's No. 1 section, first engaged the Japanese among the undergrowth and shot two of them, though not before his Bren gunner, Lance-Corporal C. Reid,97 had been killed as he dashed forward the better to site his gun. Both groups went to earth, firing only when, from behind the protection of tree trunks, movement among leaves and branches revealed their positions to each other. For the next two hours Taylor's men pressed slowly round the Japanese, who had secured themselves to resist such an attack. Taylor himself, while engaged in a brief duel, was shot in the boot, but killed the Japanese who had shot Private I. N. Tolich.98 When a Bren gun jammed, the leader of the enemy detachment leaned from behind a tree, shot the gunner, and hurled a grenade which wounded two of Taylor's men. Davidson, who had moved forward to rising ground, acted swiftly, killed the Japanese, destroyed the machine gun with a grenade, and then accounted for another of his opponents. His Distinguished Conduct Medal was well merited. Taylor
lost five men killed and three wounded, but his platoon had accounted for fifteen Japanese.
Later that afternoon No. 8 Platoon, under Sergeant N. Goodall,99 replaced Taylor's badly shaken men, and the whole area was searched. They found six more dead Japanese. During the action some consternation was caused by a wounded and dazed member of Taylor's platoon who had wandered away from the fight, happily in the right direction, telling the passing barge which picked him up on the beach that there were 150 Japanese on Sirot. Fortunately, by the time this information reached headquarters the engagement was over.
On 18 February 37 Battalion patrols reached the northern tip of Nissan Island and reported it clear. On the same day 35 Battalion had cleared south to the outskirts of the mission area, where only a narrow, unsearched tract of jungle separated them from 30 Battalion patrols moving from Pokonian. Except for single individuals and small groups, there was no sign of the enemy garrison. Before the mission area was searched on 19 February it was shelled by 17 Field Regiment, but the only evidence of occupation was a hastily vacated bivouac area and some equipment, including six 20-millimetre guns, two mortars (one of them a new type), six machine guns, 150 rifles, two radio sets, and 150,000 rounds of ammunition—sufficient armament to have damaged the single line of landing craft entering the lagoon on the morning of the 15th. Considerable quantities of rice, used later to supplement the ration for the natives, and cases of dried fish, two supply items dumped in any Japanese-held area, were also found.
Although natives still reported the presence of seventy Japanese in and around the gardens of Torahatup, they eluded the patrols by hiding in cliff cave used by the natives as burial places. Working near the unit boundaries, patrols from both 30 and 35 Battalions picked them off in twos and threes but were unable to assess the numbers of those who escaped. Late on the afternoon of 19 February, a patrol from 30 Battalion under Lieutenant G. H. Primrose100 searched the cliffs and killed four Japanese, and from midday jeeps bumped through the locality over a rough track, formerly serving the island as a Government road, in readiness for the move of Divisional Headquarters from Pokonian Plantation to the mission area. Pinched into this area by continuous patrolling and desperate for food, the remaining Japanese evidently decided to attack any
of the New Zealanders they could find, and on the morning of 19 February despatched their final message to Rabaul: ‘We are charging the enemy and beginning radio silence’. Active patrolling, however, prevented this, though one Japanese did tumble into a 30 Battalion foxhole that night and was disposed of over the nearby cliff.
The locality in which the remaining garrison was finally unearthed on 20 February, quite accidentally since it had been declared clear by patrols, was along the coast near a few deserted native huts passing as the village of Tanaheran on the map. Stronach,101 with 27 men of his carrier platoon, arrived there at 11 a.m. during a reconnaissance for a new site for 14 Brigade Headquarters, and halted for lunch in drowsy heat disturbed only by the chatter of parakeets and crackling cicadas. Patrols working farther south drove the Japanese towards him, though he was unaware of it at the time. Earlier that morning a small 35 Battalion patrol under Sergeant H. L. Nelson,102 working to the south, returned to Brigade Headquarters after killing a Japanese. Lieutenant R. P. Clouston's103 platoon, despatched to the same locality in the afternoon for a more intensive search, withdrew when it came within reach of the flying metal from an action already in progress, but remained in the area and prevented the Japanese from escaping south again, since the enemy was now confined by Stronach's men along the cliff among thickets of pandanus roots, vines and trees, and broken coral rock.
Action began with an unexpected rifle shot from one of these thickets. When Sergeant A. T. Bartlett104 took his section to investigate, a fusillade of bullets from the undergrowth greeted them and two men were wounded. Stronach immediately formed a cordon round the area with the men available, these including Ryan's machine-gun section which was fortunately in the vicinity. The section took the right flank of the perimeter. There was nothing except noise to indicate the strength of the enemy, the first estimate of which was five or six, but after two unsuccessful attempts to rescue one of his wounded men, Stronach realised he was opposed by considerable numbers and sent a message to 30 Battalion headquarters for assistance. Because of broken signal lines this did not reach Cornwall until after two o'clock in the afternoon, via Driver C. F. Broomhall, of the ASC, and the battalion adjutant, Captain G. H. Biss.
Cornwall immediately ordered D Company, under Bullen, and the mortar platoon, under Lieutenant G. R. Hamilton,105 to the scene of action, with instructions to Bullen to relieve Stronach. Meanwhile two tanks, one commanded by Lieutenant T. K. Evans106 and the other by Sergeant R. H. H. Beetham,107 were despatched to the scene on receipt of a message from Captain L. F. Brooker,108 the liaison officer who accompanied Stronach on his reconnaissance. They had been ferried across the lagoon the previous day to reconnoitre the mission site, which they had been unable to reach overland because of crevices in the coral. Soon after two o'clock Stronach put them in on his left flank. Their first task was the rescue of Private R. Stannard,109 who had been lying under a coverlet of leaves and branches, lopped off by bullets, since 11.15 o'clock in the morning. He was able to clamber onto the rear of Beetham's tank and lie there while it backed him to safety. Both tanks then sprayed the trees with canister and machine-gun fire, aiming only at movement among leaves and branches. Not one Japanese had been seen.
Bullen and his company reached the scene of action at 3.45 p.m. and relieved Stronach's platoon, which had been holding the enemy for more than four hours but had been unable to make much progress. Although the Japanese were only fifteen to twenty yards away behind that frustrating barrier of leaves, trunks and vines, it was still impossible to estimate their strength. The men continued to fire without a target, aiming only at space and sound when the enemy returned their fire. Private P. Priest110 brought one Japanese down from a tree with a lucky burst from his Bren gun. Morale was high as Bullen inched his men forward, using trees as cover. Even when a bullet snipped off one of Private R. T. Richard's111 thumbs he continued to throw grenades. Daylight was fading, quickly as it does in the tropics, under a canopy of jungle growth. Bullen realised that a final assault must be made before nightfall, otherwise the Japanese would scatter. At a quarter past five he asked Rutherford112 to withdraw his tanks so that he could reorganise his men under a mortar barrage. The machine-gunners, now equipped as infantrymen, were still on the right. Bullen's No. 15 Platoon,
under Captain P. R. W. Adams,113 took the left flank and No. 14 Platoon, under sergeant G. H. Reesby,114 was between them and the machine-gunners. After slowly moving forward for about 50 yards, Bullen decided on his final assault. Only half an hour of daylight remained. He yelled his orders from behind a tree, which diverted enemy fire. Under cover of a barrage created as each man threw a grenade, the attackers made their final dash, firing as they stumbled over splaying roots and lumps of coral.
Fifty-one dead Japanese were counted among the trees along the edge of the cliff. Eight others were picked off by a patrol from No. 16 Platoon under Corporal L. G. Ratcliffe,115 as they tried to escape to the caves in which they had been hiding. Rather than be taken prisoner, the only survivor among the tree roots killed himself with a grenade. Of those who escaped during the action, all were accounted for next day. Two were killed in caves, and three were intercepted on a raft off the south of the island on receipt of information from an air patrol. Despite their hopeless plight, those trying to escape by sea refused to surrender but opened fire on a motor torpedo boat which was sent to pick them up. Two were killed; the other, a husky fellow who had fallen over the cliff during the fighting, was taken prisoner. The total New Zealand casualties during the action at Tanaheran were three killed, including Adams who fell in the final assault, two died of wounds, and seven wounded. Up to that time 30 Battalion, in its various skirmishes, had accounted for 102 Japanese.
Three days later a small force from 37 Battalion consisting of B Company, under Captain G. F. R. Keith,116 and C Company, under Major R. Catley,117 supported by a section of mortars under Lieutenant J. C. Forward,118 and a machine-gun section, cleared the tiny island of Sau, in the Pinipel lagoon, to which fourteen survivors had fled in canoes. They were short of food, indifferently armed, and had used their clothing as binding material for the raft on which they had hoped to escape, but they refused to surrender, though an interpreter assured them they would be well and humanely treated. Patrols from Keith's company destroyed them at the cost of four wounded by grenade splinters. Except for an occasional refugee found hiding in the jungle (one was found three months later),
that was the last of the garrison in the Green Islands, which had been secured at the cost of the following casualties:
Killed: New Zealand 10, United States 3
Wounded: New Zealand 21, United States 3
By the end of February 120 Japanese had been killed, each one checked since that was the only accepted official recording of enemy dead during the Pacific campaign. A final note to the Japanese operational record of their Solomons campaign stated that conditions on Green Islands were unknown after receipt of the radio message on 19 February. It ended naively, ‘The fact that the aerial interception battle over Rabaul kept us so busy that we could not deal a smashing blow to the enemy landing forces on Green Islands, only a short distance away, was a source of great chagrin.’ But Rabaul was almost immobilised by this time. Two days after the landing, motor torpedo boats from a base quickly established in the inner shore of Barahun Island, hunted the sea lanes as far a field as Rabaul and Buka and the coast of New Ireland.
Five days after the landing, Halsey, accompanied by Vice-Admiral A. W. Fitch and Rear-Admiral Robert Carney, his chief of staff, arrived by flying boat for a conference with Barrowclough. Their visit coincided with the action at Tanaheran and the arrival of the second echelon of 21 ships under Rear-Admiral G. H. Fort, who had taken 8 Brigade to the Treasury operation. Because of food shortages and congestion on the island, 1147 natives from Nissan were returned to Guadalcanal on landing craft of the second echelon, the voyage being enlivened by the birth of a native child on the way. Every fifth day after the seizure of the group an escorted echelon arrived from Guadalcanal pouring the necessary men and materials ashore to build up the force to full strength and ensure adequate reserves. By 17 March seven such echelons had arrived, bringing a total of 16,448 all ranks, both New Zealand and American, and 43,088 tons of food, petrol, supplies, and equipment. More than three million dollars’ worth of mechanical equipment went forward in the first two echelons, most of it for airfield construction work.119
This extract from Barrowclough's report to the New Zealand Government on the seizure of the Green Islands Group is a fair indication of the conditions under which the men worked unloading supplies:
New Zealanders and Americans toiled through the steaming days and stifling nights unloading and transporting thousands of tons of supplies of every description. It is impossible to overestimate the magnitude of the work involved in unloading this cargo. Some of it came in LSTs which could enter the lagoon and drop their ramps on the ramps on the various beaches. No sooner had the huge bow doors opened than men swarmed into the cavernous holds and in sweating teams dragged out vehicles and loose cargo through oceans of mud to the dumps ashore. Most of the cargo, however, arrived in larger ships which could not enter the lagoon. These had to be unloaded into smaller landing craft, which pitched and tossed alongside the larger ships in the heavy ocean swell that was usually running. The agility and skill of the soldiers in performing this dangerous task would have done credit to experienced sailors. All services of both nations worked with most commendable zeal.
This subjection of natural obstacles was one of the features of the Green Islands operation. To overcome the lack of fresh drinking water, which was acute during the first two days but happily relieved by the proximity of untold quantities of green coconuts, sixteen massive condensers, each ready for immediate operation, went forward and were speedily installed. Each plant condensed 4000 gallons of sea-water a day, holding it in 1200-gallon canvas ‘S’ tanks, which were afterwards replaced by large wooden tanks, each with a capacity of 5000 gallons. Water from these condensers was used exclusively for drinking and cooking. Bathing presented no difficulty, as all camps were sited on either the lagoon or ocean beaches, and rain-water was trapped in drums from tents, using lengths of bamboo for guttering. Because of the danger of poisoning from coral or a particular kind of fish, men bathed in parties of never fewer than three and were ordered to wear canvas shoes while in the water.
By the time Divisional Headquarters moved to its new site in the former mission station at the south of the lagoon on 23 February, the construction programme was well advanced. Nothing hindered the work of consolidation, which went ahead through March and April until Nissan Island became another highly organised base in the Pacific and a port of call for distinguished visitors who arrived and departed like migratory birds and were facetiously referred to as ‘visiting firemen’. Permanent camp sites were established as dictated by tactical necessity and joined by a main highway, which the engineers constructed through the jungle over practically the whole island. Signals used 70 miles of underwater cable linking up the island's communications. Timber for camp and airfield
buildings came from a sawmill established in the jungle north of Tangalan Plantation, labour being shared by New Zealand engineers of 37 Field Park sawmill platoon and American engineers. A fleet of 26 small landing craft provided a taxi service from beach to beach on the lagoon, running to a strict timetable and using, with a few heavier craft to carry supplies, an average of 2300 gallons of petrol a day. Outdoor cinemas were constructed under the trees; a rest camp was established on the southern coast by B Company, 22 Field Ambulance, and the AEWS went into action. Every effort was made to provide as much diversion as possible. Two members of the Tank Squadron, seeking unauthorised adventure beyond the limited resources of a now peaceful island, accompanied an American bombing expedition to an island group north-west of Trunk and had to be brought back from Emirau when the damaged Liberator crash-landed there. They willingly paid their fines.
But the health of the troops was excellent. A furry caterpillar, dropping from the trees, caused a maddening skin irritation which cleared up when the insects disappeared. An outbreak of hookworm among members of 30 Battalion was a temporary worry, removed by the drastic treatment of the suspected sufferers. There were no epidemics of any kind, and the mosquito nuisance was lessened by the removal of large areas of trees and undergrowth.
As on every other island occupied by the division, the natives were given medical attention, which they sorely needed. When most of them were evacuated to Guadalcanal, a few hundred able-bodied men and boys were retained as a labour corps under Archer. Two hundred other natives on Pinipel, their tropical diseases aggravated by years of neglect, received regular treatment from Major W. W. Hallwright,120 Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services, and officers of the field ambulances. A diet of army rations, including some of the more despised dehydrated items, soon restored the gloss to their ebony skins.
The construction of the airfields was the crowning achievement of the Green Islands operation and proof of the vital role of engineering in the Pacific war. Barrowclough's instructions were to have a fighter strip 3250 feet by 100 feet ready for operation by 20 March and a bomber strip soon afterwards, but fourteen days before that target date aircraft were using a much more extensive strip than the one requested. By 6 March the strip was 5000 feet long by 150 feet wide, running on an angle from ocean to lagoon coast, with 17 revetments completed, as well as many of the control and accommodation buildings. A damaged American aircraft,
struggling home to Bougainville after taking part in a raid on Rabaul, made an emergency landing on 5 March, and the following day 36 aircraft landed there, including a detachment of RNZAF machines from Bougainville. When the Japanese made their final attempt to break the American perimeter at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville, and shelled the Piva and Torokina strips, all machines were flown to Nissan and parked there for safety. Sufficient aviation petrol and bombs had reached the Green Islands by 6 March that all aircraft were able to refuel and bomb up on the Nissan strip before continuing the missions of destruction to Rabaul and other enemy bases in New Britain. That day 20 New Zealand aircraft under Wing Commander C. W. K. Nicholls, DSO,121 refuelled on the Nissan strip before going on to attack Rabaul.
All this had been achieved by the utmost harmony and the closest co-operation between all services of both the New Zealand and American forces. Barrowclough made available to Whyte the assistance and equipment of the New Zealand engineers to enable the project to be completed on time; he also relieved the American construction battalions of such tasks as unloading landing craft, roadmaking and maintenance, which would have hindered their concentration on the airfields programme. On the day of the landing, technicians went direct from their boats to the area selected by map and reconnaissance in the Tangalan Plantation; two days later their surveys were complete. They found a rock-like coral foundation with a reasonably level surface and no swamps. Coconut palms growing 27 feet apart, ranged in height from 15 to 60 feet over the whole area, according to the date of planting, but during the years of neglect secondary growth, vines, and young palms from the fallen nuts had filled the avenues between the trunks with a tight weave of vegetation. Nothing, however, could withstand the powerful blades of the bulldozers. On the third day they went into action, shearing off the palms and topsoil with incredible ease and revealing the gleaming cream coral. After then came the full battery of carefully organised mechanism—scoops, graders, rollers, spreaders. From pits established along the lagoon coast, where continuous blasting resembled distant thunder, came 100,000 loads of coral carried by tip-trucks, which changed drivers every eight hours. As they dumped their loads on the runway, eight-and ten-ton rollers followed them, and then the spreaders and levellers and other massive pieces of machinery which, only a few days before, had issued from the landing craft. Men worked in shifts
round the clock, but the mechanism went on, stopping only when it required repairing.
By 3 March a mile-long lane of coral gleamed between the remaining avenues of palms, and in areas close beside them machine and repair shops, pilot and staff quarters, control tower underground fighter-control station, and a tank farm capable of holding 350,000 gallons of petrol were in various stages of construction. Blackout restrictions were no longer necessary. Rabaul had been thrashed into such impotence that no raiding aircraft came after the first two nights. When darkness fell rows of huge electric arc lights, fitted to the highest palms on either side of the strip and visible for miles, lit up the fantastic scene of men clad only in boots, hat and shorts, directing and controlling the procession of machinery.
Rain, which fell almost daily at some hour and often all day, scarcely hindered the work of construction. At night in the artificial light the huge palm fronds, quivering under the deluge of water, resembled nothing so much as green ostrich plumes. There was some anxiety on the night of 5 March when a soft patch refused to firm up, but a broiling sun the following day and additional loads of coral made it sufficiently dry to take the incoming aircraft. By 7 March that strip had become the terminal for a regular air service linking every island airfield south to Guadalcanal, and another base to cover further forward operations. A bomber strip running parallel with it was started on 6 March and completed 25 days later, working with the same urgency. From it Liberators bombed Truk and other Japanese arsenals in the Carolines. Expressed in terms of petrol alone, March was a busy month on Nissan Island. When it ended, army and construction vehicles were using 8000 gallons a day, aircraft 20,000 gallons, and the motor torpedo boats 15,000, all of it brought forward from rear bases in drums and put ashore by manpower. By the middle of April, however, the Nissan airfields had served their purpose as the campaign moved over the Equator and reverted to secondary importance as a base for purely local operations. Its fulfilment coincided with the withdrawal of 3 Division from the Pacific, the orders or first news for which were announced on 7 April. Men were on the way home before April ended.
The seizure of the Green Islands Group was virtually the end of the Solomons campaign. Concurrently with this landing American forces struck at other Japanese strongholds, first reducing many of them with raiding surface craft. On 17 February an American task force under Vice-Admiral R. A. Spruance practically destroyed Truk, the Japanese arsenal in the Caroline Islands, which was one
of the pivots on which swung their Pacific defence. During a two-day attack from sea and air the Japanese lost 325 aircraft, ten naval vessels, 28 merchant ships (about 191,000 tons) and 700 men, which the United States command regarded as partial repayment of the debt incurred at Pearl Harbour more than two years earlier. Before the smoke and echo of this blow had subsided, United States forces seized the Eniwetok Atoll on 19 February, and the control of the Marshall Islands and a whole series of strongholds passed out of Japanese hands for the first time since 1917. By 20 February the Japanese High Command reported that not one single moveable aeroplane remained to them in the South East Pacific area. MacArthur's forces, pressing north from New Britain and the northern coast of New Guinea, landed in the Admiralty Group on 29 February, followed by another landing by Wilkinson's task force on Emirau on 20 March. The great arsenal of Rabaul, which had been pounded for months with increasing violence as each move brought it within easier range of aircraft, was now encircled and impotent. Any remaining Japanese forces scattered through the jungles of the Solomons and New Guinea were completely isolated and left to ‘wither on the vine’, as the Americans invariably described their fate. Plans to seize Kavieng, another stronghold on the northern tip of New Ireland, for which Barrowclough had been warned to hold his division in readiness on 6 March, the day on which the Nissan airstrip was ready for operation, were abandoned. A final observation to the Japanese naval record of their South East Pacific area operations is surely one of the most revealing indications of mounting Allied might at that time: ‘It was difficult to learn the actual course of developments due to the fact that there were no survivors.’ With the completion of this phase of the war, command of the South Pacific theatre passed to Vice-Admiral J. H. Newton. Halsey,122 who visited Nissan on 25 May to say goodbye to
With the announcement of the virtual completion of the South Pacific campaign, except for mopping up and starving out operations, I can tell you and tell the world that no greater fighting team has ever been put together. From the desperate days of Guadalcanal to the smooth steam-rollering of Bougainville and the easy seizure of Green and Emirau, all United States-Allied services put aside every consideration but the one goal of wiping out Japs. As you progressed your techniques and team work improved until, at the last, ground, amphibious, sea and air forces were working as one beautiful piece of precision machinery that crushed and baffled our hated enemy in every encounter. Your resourcefulness, tireless ingenuity, co-operation and indomitable fighting spirit form a battle pattern that will everywhere be an inspiration, and a great measure of credit for the sky-blazing, sea-sweeping, jungle-smashing of the combat forces goes to the construction gangs and service organisations that bull-dozed bases out of the jungle and brought up beans and bullets and supplies. You never stopped moving forward and the Jap never could get set to launch a sustained counter-attack. You beat them wherever you found them and you never stopped looking for them and tearing into them. Well done. Halsey
Barrowclough and other commanders, took over command of 3 US Fleet and carried on into the Philippines.
The official dates of the division's three actions were declared to be:
Vella Lavella: 21 September to 9 October 1943
Treasury Group: 25 October to 26 November 1943
Green Islands: 15 February to 27 February 1944