Round-up On Los Negros
After 7 March, while the 2d Brigade was undertaking the conquest of Manus Island, the fighting on Los Negros continued on a reduced scale, in attempts to wipe out remaining enemy pockets of any strength and in patrol clashes with small isolated groups. The perimeters at Momote and Salami Beach began to be extended as patrols found that the surrounding jungle was free of Japanese. By 11 March the daily patrols had determined that the entire area from Mokerang Peninsula to Southeast Point and as far west as Porlaka was generally free of the enemy. The 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry pushed its perimeter at Momote west and south to the water barriers of Lemondrol Creek and Ihon Lagoon. From the 12th Cavalry beachhead at Salami, continuous patrols to the interior encountered so few Japanese that it was clear the enemy lacked sufficient numbers to harass our troops on the peninsula.
West of Lemondrol Creek it was a different story. From the beachheads at Papitalai, Papitalai Mission, and Lombrum (Map No. 8, page 62), the patrols had run into strong enemy resistance. Hills inland from these perimeters contained enemy pockets which would require the efforts of groups larger than patrols to wipe out. As in the Rossum Road action, the enemy here seemed determined to hold out and inflict as many casualties as possible on our superior force. The hilly jungle terrain lent itself to ambush and sniper action, as well as dug-in defense, and the Japanese utilized all these possibilities. A few efforts at infiltration through our perimeters were attempted, but the final stages of the battle for Los Negros would be chiefly a job of forcing the enemy from his excellent holding-out positions in the hills and jungles of the interior.
Attack on Hill 260
While the troops holding the beachheads from Lombrum to Papitalai waited for supply channels to be established, they probed to locate the center of enemy resistance. The 12th Cavalry was responsible for the beachheads at Papitalai Mission and Lombrum (Map No. 14, below). The 2d Squadron had captured Papitalai Mission and on 11 March the 1st Squadron took over Lombrum Point, relieving units of the 7th Cavalry for use in the attack on Manus Island. The 5th Cavalry held the Papitalai perimeter with Troop F. When that regiment extended its control over the area east of Lemondrol and Porharmenemen Creeks on 11 March, the 2d Squadron moved into the Porlaka area while the 1st Squadron on the left flank was concentrated near Southeast Point. It was planned that the 12th Cavalry would do most of its fighting in the northern sector,
MAP NO. 14 Hill 260, 14-17 March
moving inland from the coastal positions to cut off the Japanese hammered at by the 5th Cavalry as it pushed west on both sides of Lemondrol Creek.
Since 8 March every Troop F patrol from Papitalai had run into enemy resistance in the hilly country to the west. Although small patrols of squad size or slightly larger were held up day after day by resistance about 800 yards west of Papitalai, these first encounters did not reveal the full strength of the enemy pocket. When an attack by a platoon of Troop E, reinforced by two tanks, two bazookas, and flame throwers, was repulsed on 11 March, the strength of the enemy strongpoint became clearer. The enemy was evidently well dug in along the ridge, marked by a series of knobs, running west from Papitalai. The highest point, Hill 260, about 2,500 yards from Papitalai, was probably the center of defense. However, on two knobs
east of 260, well-defended outposts prevented any movement farther into the interior. The position 800 yards from Papitalai which had repulsed Troop E was defended by a platoon with knee mortars and at least 3 machine guns. The total enemy strength facing the 5th Cavalry was estimated at 150 to 200 Japanese.
Artillery and mortar concentrations preceded the 11 March attack, but the advancing cavalry did not have effective tank support. The approaches to the first hill west of Papitalai were impossible for the tanks. A path to the crest runs along a narrow hog-back that only two men can travel abreast. The tanks had to try the bordering jungle, where they were soon stopped by the sloping ground, the heavy growth, and a sticky clay which clogged the tracks so that they would not grip. Leaving a few riflemen with the tanks, the platoon continued to advance and reached the top of the hill, only to be pinned down by rifle and machine-gun fire from the reverse slope. Neither the flame throwers nor bazookas had kept pace, but these weapons would have been of little value in the thick rain forest which reduced visibility to less than 10 feet. Fire from hidden Japanese covered the trail from all directions and the platoon was forced to withdraw to Papitalai with a loss of three wounded.
To clear the way for the 5th Cavalry's push west, a squadron would have to neutralize the enemy defending along the ridge toward Hill 260. The plans called for a main effort by the 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry, which was to move up from its position at Southeast Point, cross Lemondrol Creek and advance west from Papitalai on the morning of 14 March. Diversionary efforts would be achieved by sending combat patrols out on the right and left flanks of the 1st Squadron's attack. The 12th Cavalry would patrol in the north and the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, back at Momote airdrome, would send patrols to investigate the situation south of Lemondrol Creek.
Four objective lines were drawn up for the 1st Squadron. The second included the outpost hill where Troop E had been stopped, the third, the next knob west, and the fourth, Hill 260. The squadron was ordered to continue attacking until 1500, when they would stop, hold all ground gained, and prepare night positions.
At 1030, after a concentration of 75-mm howitzer fire by the 82d Field Artillery Battalion and a regimental mortar concentration, the 1st Squadron jumped off. Troops A and B reached the first objective without opposition at 1120, where they were ordered to remain
until 1200 while fighter-bombers, scheduled to strike at 1245, bombed and strafed the further objectives. However, after four bombs had been dropped on the outpost hill, the strike was called off and at 1300 Troop A, supported by artillery and mortar concentrations and using Troop B as a base of maneuver, took up the attack.
This time fire from knee mortars and machine guns as well as from snipers was encountered. The front-line cavalry fired red rockets, and the artillery, adjusted by forward and air observers, placed fire 50 to 150 yards in front of the advance elements. Two platoons of Troop A were able to move slowly forward in a double envelopment of the hill. A platoon of Troop B also moved forward, as the balance of Troop A could not go through them. Several pillboxes were encountered and teams were organized to knock them out. On the left flank, open brush country allowed a bazooka to knock out a machine-gun nest at a range of 75 yards, killing 8 Japanese. Where a
good line of sight could be obtained, bazookas were used on pillboxes; otherwise riflemen and machine gunners worked on them. The attack on the pillboxes was hampered by enemy mortar fire, soon silenced by our countermortar fire. At 1440 the 3 advance platoons had captured the hill on the second objective, having lost 2 killed and 20 wounded.
Although the outpost hill was in our possession, the remaining Japanese evidently intended to make a firm stand farther along the ridge. At 1555 the enemy counterattacked Troop A and was repulsed by artillery and mortar fire. From 1930 until midnight the artillery and mortars fired alternately every half hour on the next hill and the trails leading from it. Nevertheless, the enemy attacked again at 2100. This time the cavalrymen broke up the attack with their rifles and machine guns, with support by mortars and artillery.
At 0730 on the 15th, Troop A moved forward again. After artillery and mortar concentrations, the troop advanced to the third objective without any resistance. Troop A dug in there and Troop B sent out patrols 200 yards to the front. Still no opposition was encountered. Difficulties of supplying the troops over an extended supply line which consisted of 1½ miles of narrow, rutted, and slippery trail prevented further advance. Troop C, aided by a section furnished by the 82d Field Artillery Battalion, took 5 hours for a round trip.
The 1st Squadron's last objective was the largest knob, Hill 260, on which it was now estimated were 100 well-entrenched Japanese. By 17 March sufficient supplies had been brought up to enable Troop C, which had relieved Troop A, to push on toward this knob. After the usual artillery and mortar preparation, Troop C, protected in the rear by Troop B which was dug in on the third objective, advanced to within 50 yards of the hill crest before being stopped by machine-gun and rifle fire.
Squadron commander Lt. Col. Charles E. Brady then dispatched Troop B north to envelop the enemy from his left flank. Although Troop B had to cut its way laboriously and noisily through the jungle, the envelopment was highly successful. The Japanese put up little resistance and both troops moved onto the hill and secured it by 1310. About 40 or 50 dead Japanese were counted, although the total, which was impossible to determine in the jungle, was undoubtedly much higher. The 1st Squadron's losses in the day's attack were four killed and seven wounded.
Patrolling by the 12th Cavalry
In its attack on Hill 260, the 5th Cavalry had hoped for strong diversionary attacks to the north by the 12th Cavalry. On 13 March, however, the 12th Cavalry was placed in division reserve to be ready to support the 2d Brigade's attack on Lugos Mission, and was permitted to do only a limited amount of patrolling. Until the regiment was released from its alert, activities in the Papitalai-Lombrum area would be confined to small patrolling missions. These would endeavor to determine enemy strength and to locate trails along which Japanese might try escape to the west. It was also hoped that these patrols might give the enemy the impression that our forces were moving westward on Los Negros and thus divert Japanese attention away from Manus.
Patrol reports indicated by 14 March that not more than 200 Japanese would be encountered in the hilly region southwest of Papitalai Mission and Lombrum (Map No. 15, page 124). While the 5th Cavalry began its attack on the central ridge where a portion of these Japanese defended, 12th Cavalry patrols clashed with enemy groups in the hills to the north. On 14 March, D Day for the attack on Hill 260 and the day before the invasion of Manus, the 2d Squadron at Papitalai Mission sent Troop G on a patrol along the coast toward Lombrum, with the intention of indicating to the enemy that our forces were moving west. At Chaporowan Point Troop G was to contact a 1st Squadron patrol, but swampy terrain delayed this group; instead, Troop G ran into Japanese with knee mortars, machine guns, and grenades about 500 yards east of the point. An enemy flanking maneuver put Troop G, right on the harbor and with restricted possibilities of movement, in a difficult position. All available machine guns, mortars, and 37-mm's in the Lombrum perimeter were used to help extricate them and cover their withdrawal. They were finally able to break clear and return to Papitalai Mission with 15 wounded. The troop had lost 2 killed, and it was subsequently determined that 31 Japanese had been killed by our concentrated fire.
After the failure to connect the perimeters by moving along the coast, Troop A was sent out on LCM's to Chaporowan Point on 16 March. Followed by Troop B and a portion of 1st Squadron Headquarters, Troop A's landing was unopposed. As these troops dug in for the night, the mortar platoons of Weapons and D Troops in
position on Lombrum Point concentrated their fire on positions inland from Chaporowan Point where patrols had encountered resistance. This fire succeeded in protecting the new perimeter from attack.
On 17 March, 1st Squadron patrols inland from the Lombrum and Chaporowan perimeters continued to meet resistance. The coconut groves of Lombrum and the Mission were comparatively free of the enemy but the jungle hill country southwest of the perimeter, and the coastal areas between the three perimeters, continued to be contested. West of Lombrum there was little opposition. Although their supply situation was poor and morale deteriorating, the Japanese had certain advantages against our patrols. The entire country being probed was well known to the Japanese and entirely strange to the cavalrymen. The Japanese were more security conscious than in the early days of our advance and no more maps or diagrams could be found. In addition the enemy themselves were engaged in active
MAP NO. 15 12th Cavalry Probes Inland
patrolling, so that, although this brought them into contact with our troops, their base positions could not be accurately determined. Regions reported clear one day might be occupied a few hours later.
The experience of two 1st Squadron patrols is typical of many during this period. S/Sgt. Lindal L. Barrett was sent in the morning of the 17th with a patrol to reconnoiter trails to the south and west of Chaporowan Point. He returned at 1140 without encountering any enemy. S/Sgt. Rex C. Clark had been sent out the same morning with the mission of reconnoitering a creek to the south before turning west. To accomplish this mission he had to cross, 100 yards south of the perimeter, the same trail that Sergeant Barrett's patrol had taken. At that point he ran into an ambush, 15 minutes after Sergeant Barrett had passed through without drawing fire. Sergeant Clark's platoon was forced to withdraw and at 1330 Sergeant Barrett's platoon was sent back into the area by the same track that it had originally taken. This time Barrett's platoon also ran into the ambush and was completely surrounded by the Japanese. Sergeant Barrett ordered his men to withdraw and, despite the fact that he had been wounded in the arm, stood and fired on visible targets, killing two Japanese and making the withdrawal possible.
While the 1st Squadron patrols hunted out the elusive enemy, the 2d Squadron at Papitalai Mission was released from division reserve and was ordered to support the 5th Cavalry attack on Hill 260. On 18 March the 2d Squadron would make a reconnaissance in force against the enemy left flank at a point 200 yards northwest of Hill 260. Although the 5th Cavalry had secured Hill 260 on 17 March, evidently earlier than expected, the 2d Squadron's attack toward that area was not called off. The enemy was located close to the 5th Cavalry supply trail and his snipers were giving trouble.
A platoon of Troop F commanded by 1st Lt. Arthur L. Allen, Jr., preceded the squadron as point. Just as it entered the jungle 600 yards from the perimeter, the platoon received heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from various directions. When two enemy machine guns were spotted, Lieutenant Allen personally placed his light machine guns and riflemen and directed their fire. Lieutenant Allen was killed, but his platoon held its ground, and enabled the remainder of Troop F following down the road to deploy. After a sharp fight it became obvious that a very strong position had been encountered, and the squadron withdrew to the perimeter with 37 casualties. The
continual patrol clashes and the failure of the 2d Squadron attack in this area indicated that it would take more than patrols to mop up the enemy in the hills southwest of Papitalai Mission.
Attack in the Papitalai Hills
After its successful attack on 17 March, the 5th Cavalry held a salient west from Papitalai, as far as Hill 260. West and northwest of their position all advance was strongly contested. 12th Cavalry patrols made little headway in wiping out the determined Japanese resistance groups north of the spearhead, and 5th Cavalry patrols sent west also met resistance. Therefore General Chase ordered a brigade attack for 21 March to complete the occupation of Los Negros. The 12th Cavalry, less two troops, was released from division reserve on 20 March and was ready to take full part in the last big attack on Los Negros.
The 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry would attack north from its sector and meet the 2d Squadron, 12th Cavalry attacking southwest (Map No. 16, pages 128-129). Then, with the area north of Hill 260 cleaned up, the two squadrons would move westward abreast, to attack the high ground still in enemy hands west of Hill 260. Meanwhile the enemy would be encircled by the 12th Cavalry forces at Lombrum and Chaporowan, who would move inland to trap the Japanese escaping west under pressure of the other attack.
Troop C, 12th Cavalry, plus one platoon of heavy machine guns, would move southwest from Chaporowan Point and then southeast to intersect the north-south trail and take a position on the high ground there. Farther west at Lombrum, the 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry would send Troop B, reinforced, on a circling maneuver to the high ground slightly west of Troop C's objective. This move would catch any enemy escaping Troop C's wedge west of the Papitalai hills pocket. The Reconnaissance Platoon would wipe out a strongpoint just south of Lombrum Bay and then protect Troop B's left flank. Southern Los Negros would be cleared by the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, concentrated at Southeast Point, which would move 2½ miles westward into previously probed territory and make an advance north of Palapi Hill.
On 21 March the attacking elements of the 12th and 5th Cavalry regiments pushed out. Troop F, 12th Cavalry met determined
resistance and by nightfall reached a point 1,700 yards southwest of Papitalai Mission, where they dug in. Although the 12th Cavalry troops were only about 250 yards from the 5th Cavalry, they were not able to contact each other because of the dense jungle. Troop C of the 5th Cavalry had patrolled 700 yards west of Hill 260 where they ran into fire from machine guns hidden in thick patches of cane. Troop C withdrew to allow artillery and mortar fire to be placed upon the position, then tried again with no better results.
From the western positions, the 12th Cavalry attacks fared better. Troop C progressed 1,000 yards south of Chaporowan Point, where it dug in on a hill overlooking a Japanese village reported by earlier patrols and called "Juarez" by the cavalrymen. From Lombrum Troop B fought its way inland about 2,500 yards through swamps and jungle to a trail on the high ground south of Lombrum and dug in across the trail. The 12th Cavalry troops had accounted for 31 known dead Japanese, demolished defensive installations, and captured quantities of stores in their push inland.
The night was not a quiet one for Troop B. A group of Japanese from the village of "Juarez," evidently pushed out by the pressure of Troop C's attack, moved west toward Troop B's perimeter blocking the east-west trail. Troop B held its fire until the trail was crowded with the enemy, and then opened up. The Japanese dispersed but succeeded in surrounding the troop and attacked the perimeter all through the night. They did not break through the tight defense.
In the morning Troop B, aided by a perfectly placed concentration from the 271st Field Artillery Battalion, succeeded in driving through the Japanese surrounding the perimeter and worked its way northeast to join with Troop C. Then, after another artillery preparation on the Japanese village "Juarez," Troop B occupied the village. Troop A, at Chaporowan Point, then joined the rest of the 1st Squadron at the village. It had been relieved by Troops G and H which were moved from the Mission to Chaporowan Point by boat.
The squadrons advancing from the east did not succeed in closing up the gap between their lines and the 12th Cavalry sweep south of Chaporowan Point. The 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry moved forward at 0900 with Troops C and B abreast. They attacked west to the hill where Troop C had been held up the previous day. Heavy fire again stopped the advance. An encircling movement around the
MAP NO. 16 The Last Fight on Los Negros, 20-25 March
enemy position was attempted, but the thick cane and dense undergrowth held troops to as little as 200 yards advance in an hour. The resistance was too strong and the 1st Squadron was forced to withdraw to Hill 260. The position which had held up the 5th Cavalry's advance west for two days was estimated to be held by one reinforced platoon, well concealed and dug in, defending with three machine guns, knee mortars, and grenades.
Continuing its advance southwest from Papitalai Mission the 2d Squadron, 12th Cavalry pressed 800 yards farther inland on 22 March. However, they were still unable to make contact with the 5th Cavalry at nightfall. The situation was made worse because Japanese patrols had cut the 2d Squadron's supply line. Although they were completely isolated, during the night Troops E and F beat off a determined counterattack on their position, killing 15 Japanese, 2 of whom were officers. Some of the Japanese were wearing American fatigue clothes and helmets. Four Americans were wounded.
South of Lemondrol Creek the forces pushing west had met lighter resistance than the squadron attacking in the Papitalai hills. The enemy offered no real fight to the 2d Squadron's patrols until 16 March when the Japanese entrenched at Puwas, about 3 miles west of Southeast Point, forced back a reinforced troop with machinegun fire. Artillery and mortar concentrations pounded these positions, and on 23 March the 2d Squadron occupied an area from Puwas to the west side of Palapi Hill with a loss of three killed and three wounded.
Since the initiation of the brigade attack on 21 March, the efforts of two regiments had not been notably successful in wiping out the stubborn enemy pockets in the Papitalai hills. Our losses from 21 March to noon on the 23d, were 14 killed and 78 wounded. Although the 2d Squadron, 12th Cavalry had cleared most of the area of the Papitalai Mission peninsula and, together with the 1st Squadron troops blocking the enemy escape west, had accounted for about 100 enemy dead, the general line of advance to the west had been pushed only a few yards from the 5th Cavalry position on Hill 260, gained on 17 March.
The primary reason for the slow advance was the terrain. Jungle far denser than that encountered in the coastal areas gave the Japanese excellent concealment and hindered the coordination and forward movement of our troops. Difficulties of supplying even a slow advance were immeasurable, and often the attack had to stop to wait for supplies. However, the fierce resistance of the enemy holding out in the jungle led our command to revise its estimate of the Japanese remaining in the area. It was now believed that 600 to 800 Japanese defended the area from the Papitalai hills to Loniu Passage.
All day of 23 March was devoted primarily to improving the supply route to the forward troops. The isolated 2d Squadron, 12th Cavalry finally made contact with the 5th Cavalry at 1130 and received food and ammunition from them. Two platoons of Troop G, 12th Cavalry were sent from Papitalai Mission to carry supplies to the squadrons over the 5th Cavalry's supply trail from Papitalai. The wounded were evacuated back over the trail, and supplies of ammunition, rations, and water were immediately built up in the forward supply dumps behind the two squadrons. Plans were made for both squadrons to attack abreast on the high ground west of Hill 260 early in the morning of 24 March.
With the 12th and 5th Cavalry in contact and holding a continuous front, coordination could be achieved. Troops A and C of the 5th Cavalry and E and F of the 12th Cavalry would advance abreast, with the two troops on the outside echeloned to the right and rear. The advance was to be a leapfrog movement. Any platoon held up would cover the advance of supporting platoons. Preceded by a 15-minute artillery preparation, the attack jumped off from Hill 260 at 0830. Progress continued with light resistance until the troops encountered machine guns emplaced in a group of huts several hundred yards to the front. All troops halted and were undecided about what to do. At this juncture Capt. Henry B. Greer, the ranking officer in the front line, quickly met the situation by calling all troop commanders together and quietly giving them directions. He ordered that all heavy machine guns be brought to the center and emplaced to fire from hill positions where they would dominate the village and at the same time be under cover. The machine guns opening up on the village would be the signal for every man to move forward either through the village or around it.
The plan worked well. When the order to open fire with the heavy guns was given, every man moved forward, firing from the hip with carbines, M-l's, BAR's, and light machine guns. The volume of fire was so great that the movement carried through and beyond the village, scattering and blanketing all enemy fire and killing all the Japanese in the village. At 1400 the men dug in on the high ground (west of Hill 260) where the enemy had delayed the advance for so long. Fifty Japanese had been killed in the attack. Our casualties were 3 killed, 12 wounded.
Although neither squadron had more than a day's supply of rations and ammunition, it was decided to continue the push west on 25 March. At 0830 both squadrons moved west toward their objective, a trail leading south from Chaporowan Point to Lolach Passage. Artillery preparation had been extensive and during the advance a total of 2,844 rounds of 105-mm were poured on the objective area, effectively wiping out enemy resistance. The attacking force had killed 33 Japanese, and 20 dead from artillery fire were counted.
Inadequate supplies forced the troops to stop at a position 100 yards short of the trail. The terrain over which the troops had advanced was hilly and covered with dense undergrowth. It had no
trails and was impassable for vehicles carrying supplies. A new route had to be found and supply bases moved forward. The squadrons maintained their positions throughout the night and were reached in the morning by a troop bringing supplies from the 12th Cavalry at Chaporowan.
After the successful attack of 24 March, enemy activity against forward troops was negligible. It began to appear that the high ground won by the 1st Brigade was the last position on Los Negros to be effectively defended. Between 26-31 March the fate of the Japanese defenders became clearer. The survivors still had defensive positions west of the Papitalai hills, but without ammunition or supplies they could not put up any fight against our troops closing in from both east and west. Many elaborate defenses, some of them recently constructed, were discovered in the area west of Hill 260. One emplacement was found that had a shaft 18 feet deep, which tunneled into the side of a hill; similar constructions had shafts 8 to 10 feet deep. However, as early as the night of 23/24 March the enemy's disastrous ammunition shortage was displayed to our troops when Japanese had thrown sticks and mud clods into the fox holes of the 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry.
A diary found on a dead Japanese suggests the fate of all the survivors:
28 March. Last night's duty was rather quiet except for the occasional mortar and rifle fire that could be heard. According to the conference of the various unit leaders, it has been decided to abandon the present position and withdraw. The preparation for this has been made. However, it seems as though this has been cancelled and we will firmly hold this position. Ah! This is honorable defeat and I suppose we must be proud of the way we have handled ourselves. Only our names will remain, and this is something I don't altogether like. Yes, the lives of those remaining, 300 of us, are now limited to a few days.
30 March. This is the eighth day since we began the withdrawal. We have been wandering around and around the mountain roads because of the enemy. We have not yet arrived at our destination but we have completely exhausted our rations. Our bodies are becoming weaker and weaker, and this hunger is getting unbearable.
31 March. Although we are completely out of rations, the march continues. When will we reach Lorengau? Or will this unit be annihilated in the mountains? As we go along, we throw away our equipment and weapons one by one.
1 April. Arrived at native shack. According to a communication, friendly troops in Lorengau cannot help but withdraw. Hereafter there is no choice but to live as the natives do.
By 30 March extensive patrolling activities by both regiments revealed conclusively that there were not enough Japanese remaining on Los Negros to cause our forces any trouble. Most of the combat troops could settle down to a much-deserved and needed rest. Although many dead Japanese were discovered along the jungle trails, no count ever reached the high estimate of 23 March, which allowed for a force of over 500 on Los Negros. Undoubtedly many Japanese dead escaped detection in the jungle. The remainder was believed to have fled to Manus, where remnants estimated at 400 were thought to be scattered. On Los Negros 1,917 enemy dead had been counted since 29 February. The 1st Brigade had lost 143 killed and 408 wounded.
For most of the troops on Los Negros the combat phase of the Admiralties operations was over. The 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry took up positions on the southern coast, and the 2d Squadron occupied Loniu Village (Map No. 3, pages 8-9). After the 12th Cavalry had cleared out the northern area west to Loniu Passage, the entire regiment reassembled at Lombrum Point on 29-30 March. Here the troops cleaned clothing, equipment, and arms and relaxed on the excellent beach. The 5th Cavalry had been in action for 31 days, the 12th for 24 days. Final mopping-up operations on outlying islands were assigned to the 12th Cavalry.
Capture of Outlying Islands
Overwater assaults on the lesser islands of the Admiralties, along with mopping-up actions on Manus, comprised the last phase of combat operations. In light of the losses on Hauwei and with the expectation that landings would be opposed, attacks on the outlying islands would be made in considerable force. Pityilu Island, 3 miles north of Lugos Mission, was the first scheduled for attack on 30 March by the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry, reinforced (Map No. 3, pages 8-9). The other islands were objectives of the 12th Cavalry; the 1st Squadron, reinforced, would seize and mop up Koruniat
and Ndrilo Islands on 1 April and two days later the 2d Squadron, reinforced, would attack Rambutyo.
Pityilu Island, thought to be defended by 60 Japanese, is nearly 3 miles long and varies in width from 250 to 650 yards. The beach chosen for the assault is the only one suitable for landing; it is of white, hard sand and is located about the center of the southern shore. Six waves transported in LVT's, LCM's, and LCV's would make up the assaulting force, which would move inland through the coconut plantation covering the western two-thirds of the island.
Naval gunfire, artillery, and air strikes had been used against this island at various times before the attack date. Destroyers had first bombarded it to keep down hostile fire when the approaches to Lorengau and Lugos Mission were being cleared of mines. A Japanese naval gun captured on Hauwei Island had been put back into commission and used to augment the fires on Pityilu. Preparation for the attack began at 0630 on 30 March by 2 destroyers which fired 30 rounds each until 0730. A spectacular air strike followed the naval fire.
For the first 10 minutes P-40's dive-bombed the landing beach; the next 10 minutes P-40's and Spitfires strafed the entire island. Immediately afterwards the 61st Field Artillery Battalion, which had registered the previous day from positions on the south side of the Lorengau air strip, pounded the island with a heavy concentration of 105's. When the artillery barrage was lifted, two LCS's (Landing Craft, Support) on either flank of the beach opened up with their rockets. By this time the assault waves were approaching the shore, and the rockets searched the island in front of the first wave.
The successive waves landed unopposed and the troops established a beachhead with Troop C as the left wing, Troop A in the center, and Troop B on the right. At 1000 some patrols sent out immediately after landing reported no contact with the enemy. The Reconnaissance Platoon moved by buffalo to the west, while Troop C in reserve on the beach sent patrols west into the interior. Troops A and B, with one medium tank leading the way, began an advance east toward the rain forest which covered that end of the island.
As the troops advanced they ran into light machine-gun and sniper fire which was easily silenced. Enemy guns in a hut, encountered by Troop B after moving 1,000 yards along the south coast, were neutralized by the tank, which blew up the entire position.
At 1212, after progressing 1,500 yards, Troop A ran into heavy resistance from dug-in positions midway between the north and south shores. Troop A started to withdraw to permit an artillery concentration to be placed on the position, but the Japanese followed the withdrawal so closely that it was impossible to evacuate our wounded until a light tank was brought up to cover this operation. Then a 45-minute artillery concentration was placed on the enemy bunker, after which Troop A, aided by the light tank, attacked the position and killed 14 Japanese.
Troop B came upon a hastily constructed trench containing 21 Japanese, who gave their position away by loud chatter. When 2d Lt. John R. Boehme and two privates went out to investigate the position, they were wounded by fire from the group. In spite of his wound, Pvt. Paul A. Lahman advanced on the position, firing clip after clip from his BAR. He was credited by Lieutenant Boehme with the destruction of practically the entire force. At 1720 the squadron withdrew on regimental orders to a position on the western edge of the rain forest and established a perimeter for the night. The Reconnaissance Platoon patrolled the western end of the island and returned to report no contact. Although the attacking force then did not know it, all the Japanese garrison had been killed or wounded. After a bombardment the next morning, the squadron advanced and discovered more dead Japanese, which made a total of 59 killed against 8 cavalrymen killed and 6 wounded in the mopping up of Pityilu.
Seizing Pityilu was an expensive operation compared with the other small islands, which turned out to be either unoccupied or
harboring only a handful of Japanese who hid out in the interior. Until 4 April our command did not have knowledge of the enemy document of 2 March that had ordered the calling in of the garrison units from Rambutyo, Peli, Pak, and Pityilu. In preparation for the 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry's attack on Ndrilo and Koruniat, which had earlier been suspected of harboring naval guns, PT boats and a rocket boat as well as the customary artillery took the islands under fire. Bombing and strafing by the RAAF and heavy mortar fire from Mokerang Point also preceded the assault, which moved out on I April, transported in native canoes. No Japanese were found on Koruniat or on Ndrilo, and the next day the 1st Squadron returned to Lombrum Point.
Rambutyo, an island 11 miles long and 5 miles wide, was also invaded by a strong force. On 3 April the 2d Squadron, 12th Cavalry, with two platoons of engineers and two platoons of the shore battalion, were loaded on destroyers at 0600. After a bombardment the troops landed at noon and met no resistance. Some Japanese were thought to be hiding in the rugged interior, so the 2d Squadron's task was a mopping-up operation through unusually steep country and heavy jungle, where water was hard to find. By 23 April, with the aid of an Angau warrant officer and native guides and patrols, 30 Japanese had been killed and 5 more captured. Further mopping up was left to the native police recruited by Angau.
Meanwhile on 9 April the 1st Squadron of the 12th had occupied Pak Island. Three prisoners, captured on 10 April, had escaped from Rambutyo by native canoe. On 12 April more Japanese were found on the east end of Pak and destroyed, eight of them in a large coral cave from which they fought until the cave was blown in on them by a demolition section from the 8th Engineers.
Mopping-up actions on the small islands completed the combat operations of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, which had initiated the invasion of the Admiralties and whose units had fought almost continually for over a month. On 4 April the 5th Cavalry began moving to a semipermanent bivouac area on Koruniat Island, and after its operations were completed the 12th Cavalry moved to Salami Plantation. The troops of the 1st Brigade would settle down to housekeeping, rehabilitation, and training, with existence in the tropics made more bearable by the arrival of refrigeration, bakery, and laundry companies. The 2d Brigade continued to rout out the remnants of Japanese defenders on Manus.
Final Mopping Up on Manus
After the hard struggle to break the last enemy holding positions on Manus, the 2d Brigade Combat Team pushed inland after the scattering enemy, and penetrated much of the thick jungle, swamps, and high mountains covering the interior. The Angau and native guides helped the 7th and 8th Cavalry patrols make their way through this rugged terrain, while the 302d Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, trained for overwater patrolling, probed coastal areas around the entire island.
Eastern Manus was the area assigned the 8th Cavalry to clear of Japanese, many of whom were thought to have fled to this area from Los Negros. Less Troop A which had suffered high casualties, the 1st Squadron established a perimeter on the high ground at Rossum. From Number Two Road and from the 2d Squadron positions along Loniu Passage, aggressive patrols then covered the entire network of native trails. The Japanese encountered were always in small groups of stragglers, for the most part wandering aimlessly across country trying to exist on the raw flesh of dogs and on what they could steal from the native gardens. Constant pressure was maintained on the remaining enemy, although the pursuing troops were frequently rotated for rest and rehabilitation. Up to 2 May when the regiment was withdrawn to bivouac at Hauwei Island, the 8th Cavalry had accounted for 285 enemy dead after suffering a total loss of 4 troopers killed and 7 wounded.
Although the attack on Pityilu limited the 7th Cavalry's patrolling efforts, by 30 March its patrols operating from Lorengau had covered all the ground west of Number Two Road to the Tingo-Hiwal trail, making a wide area around Lorengau secure for the building of the naval base. After the 1st Squadron completed the occupation of Pityilu, it carried on patrolling activities from Lugos Mission. The 2d Squadron was assigned the difficult task of moving inland along Number One Road as far as Kawaliap. A base reconnaissance camp would be established at Yiringo by a reinforced troop while the other troops established themselves at designated points along the road to facilitate shuttling of supplies, secure the route, send out local patrols, and set ambushes.
Supplying an entire squadron, ordered to move as far as 15 miles inland, presented a serious problem. Continuous rains had made the red clay Number One Road impassable for all vehicular transportation but a D-7 dozer with trailer, and beyond Tingo nothing could get through. On 2 April Troop E moved 500 yards west of the Lihei River and established a supply base for the planned patrols. A dozer moved supplies to the east bank of the river, but troops had to take over from there, ford the river waist-deep, and then climb up a series of steep hills that were almost impossible for men carrying loads. Because this supply base was so difficult to reach, a new one had to be set up and by 8 April another suitable route was devised. Buffaloes carried supplies up the Tingau River to a point
north of Sabon, and from there native carriers were ready to relay them to the inland patrols when troops of the 2d Squadron reached their assigned positions. Since natives could carry a 41-pound load from Sabon to Yiringo in about 3V2 hours, while the same task took the average soldier 2 or 3 days, the new supply arrangement eased the burden on the troopers considerably.
By 10 April the troops of the 2d Squadron had stationed themselves at Yiringo, Drano, Lundret, and Sabon. On the previous day a large group of enemy stragglers, attempting to gather in the Drabito-Metawarri area south of the 2d Squadron's farthest point of penetration, had been bombed by P-40's from the 73d Wing RAAF. The southern coastline as far as Patusi Bay had been combed by the 8th Cavalry, so the 2d Squadron's efforts were directed to a thorough clearing of the area north and west of the Number One Road. Living under terrible conditions of rain and heat, the squadron patrolled the interior until 17 April when it began to move to Hauwei island, its mission completed. The squadron had accounted for 82 enemy (lead and had lost 1 man killed and 4 wounded. However, the heavy rains contributed to a high disease rate and 74 men had to be evacuated. The 1st Squadron kept its perimeter at Lugos Mission until 5 May, and the Japanese accounted for by its patrols, aided by the natives, raised the 7th Cavalry's total of Japanese killed during the mopping-up period to 102. Seven prisoners were taken.
After 5 May the entire 7th Cavalry established a semipermanent camp at Hauwei Island. The 1st Squadron was relieved at Lugos Mission by the 1st Squadron, 8th Cavalry, which continued mopping-up operations until the close of the official campaign on 18 May. The 2d Squadron was also assigned to further patrolling on 17 May. While the 8th Cavalry concentrated on the northeastern area, the 302d Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop continued its extensive patrolling along the coast. Natives furnished by Angau served the 8th Cavalry not only as bearers, scouts, and canoe paddlers, but also as police boys and "hired assassins" who tracked down and killed Japanese. The troopers also became adept at hunting Japanese, often acting as if it were a mere sporting proposition. On one occasion a native reported to an 8th Cavalry patrol that three unarmed Japanese were in a hut to their front. Three members of the patrol dropped their arms, moved into the hut and, after a scuffle, killed the three with knives. The total number of Japanese killed by the 8th Cavalry
in this last period of mopping up was 133, with 15 captured and 18 additional bodies discovered. Many of the dead discovered during the period had perished from starvation.
In the final destruction of the Japanese, the 302d Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop demonstrated its skill in hunting and ambushing an enemy in unknown and difficult country. The unit, consisting of 8 officers and 177 men, had been intensively trained before the operation, and the experience gained saved many lives. Aside from losses suffered in the ambush at Hauwei, the troops sustained only two casualties from 10 March to 12 May, during which time at least a part of the troop was in daily contact with the enemy. A considerable part of the success of the troop lay in its mastery of the art of concealment. It was essentially a "sneak and peek" organization which made stealthy landings in small boats by daylight and darkness; then concealed the craft and obliterated all traces of the landing. All the troopers were adept at mapping and map correction and the establishment of trail-watching posts. When the enemy ceased using the trails and moved through virgin jungle in the later phases of the campaign, the troopers learned how to find them. By tactful handling of the natives and by mastering their language quickly, the troopers won indispensable assistance. When Japanese came to the villages hunting for food the troopers were immediately informed.
Messages from patrols were sent chiefly by native runners, by pigeons, and by code on radio sets. Although the native runners and the pigeons were reliable, the pigeons would not fly when soaked in a tropical downpour and waterproof covers had to be provided for their cages. Sometimes the weight of the radio hampered small moving patrols. Simple codes were improvised and six Sioux Indians who could speak their tribal language fluently improved on these codes, sending messages in the clear with impunity. Although the missions of the troop were chiefly of reconnaissance, they killed 48 Japanese and captured 15 prisoners in their extensive patrolling of the island during May.
Enemy dead accounted for by all the units involved in the last phase of operations on Manus reached a total of 586. Prisoners, captured mostly in the last days when the starving Japanese were more disposed to surrendering, totaled 47. During the mopping up, our forces suffered the relatively small losses of 6 killed, and 12 wounded. At the close of the official campaign it was estimated that 150
additional Japanese were still hiding out in the jungle. Patrols and armed natives continued to find these, but as most of them were dying of starvation, they were no longer a threat.
Service troops and construction equipment had come ashore along with combat troops immediately after the reconnaissance in force had seized its beachhead, when every man was needed to defend the initial hold against counteroffensives. The Brewer Operation was conceived with the prime objective of developing an advance naval and air base to neutralize Japanese power in the Bismarck area. Therefore the planned immediate establishment of two airdromes and light naval facilities called for a high priority on service troops who were to be employed at these tasks as soon as practicable. In addition to their use for strategic objectives, service troops also had aided tactical operations in the Admiralties immeasurably. After accounting well for themselves in their emergency combat role, helping to defend the early perimeter, the first service units ashore took up the varied tasks of building air and naval facilities as well as performing the indispensable services for the combat troops. The quick repair of the Momote air strip brought fighter planes almost to the front lines. Engineers directly helped in the destruction of the enemy; without the bulldozer, combat operations inland on muddy roads, especially with armor, would have been impossible. As the fighting reached the mopping-up stage and more service units came ashore, the activities of building a more habitable base involved more men than did services for troops engaged in combat.
After the initial stages of operations, signal communications between Army, Air Corps, and Naval forces were greatly improved by the arrival of the 99th Signal Battalion at Salami on 16 March. This unit took over the switchboards and was responsible for all wire communications on Los Negros until 20 April. On 9 April a radio station and message center was set up at Salami Plantation by a scction from the 832d Signal Service Company.
In transforming the devastated island into a naval and air base, health precautions were as essential as construction. Early in the operations the 52d Malaria Control Unit began searching for mosquito breeding places and carried on an extensive oiling program. This work was also kept up by the 28th Malaria Survey Unit which on 22 March made the first blood survey of natives in Mokerang village.
Natives were of great use in both tactical operations and construction work. The Angau Detachment recruited them for pack trains, for scouting, for police work, and for actually hunting and killing the enemy. By 11 May the. entire population of 17,000 was under the control of Angau and 5,000 were being rationed and cared for. In 5 camps, 1,231 native laborers (a few of whom were women and children) were employed on various projects. Many were assigned to cavalry units and to the air forces. The 58th Evacuation Hospital used a large number in malaria control, and the greatest part were engaged in various overhead duties, including improvement of the villages.
The 40th Naval Construction Battalion, which had defended the air strip with the cavalrymen on 3-4 March, was joined by other Seabees of the 17th, 46th, 78th, and 104th Naval Construction Battalions. The Seabees were to work on the Momote air strip as well as on dock and road construction. Other sections working on roads and maintenance were taken from the 8th Engineer Squadron and the 592d Engineer Shore Battalion. On 16 March the Momote air strip was in use and the airdrome well on its way to completion; however, the captured Lorengau airdrome was discovered not to meet the requirements for the second airdrome planned for the Admiralties. Therefore, at Mokerang Plantation, a coral-surfaced modern airdrome 100 by 8,000 feet was put under construction. By 18 May the Momote airdrome was extended to 7,000 feet and surfaced with coral, completely equipped with taxiways, hardstandings, and storage areas.
Many naval facilities, begun soon after the landings, were finished by the end of the official campaign. A floating Liberty dock, a fixed Liberty dock, and a pile dock at Mokerang were ready for use. An LST pile dock was almost complete and a pipeline jetty had been built at Porlaka. Facilities for a full-fledged base were begun: storage for 7,000 barrels of bulk petroleum was ready at Momote
and space was being built for 30,000 barrels at Mokerang. Channels into the harbor were also improved and buoyed and a crib dock constructed.
Areas around the air strips were becoming more habitable. Camps had been built for the RAAF and AAF, and more living quarters could be constructed from the lumber turned out by a sawmill operated by the engineers. Drainage was the biggest obstacle to providing healthful living conditions. Tropical rains kept troops busy and often made them repeat their agonizing efforts. just as the engineers had nearly filled a swamp about 100 yards wide on Hauwei Island, the rains came and the swamp spread to three times its original size. Nevertheless, by 18 May, eastern Los Negros and the Lorengau area of Manus as well as some of the outlying islands looked very little like the lush and dangerous territory invaded by the 1st Cavalry Division a month and a half before.
page created 28 June 2001
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