The Battle for Los Negros Beachhead


MOST OF THE ELEMENTS of the reconnaissance force were in the vicinity of Camp Borio, on 26 February, taking part in the 1st Brigade Amphibious Training Problem, when word was received that all training would stop at once. Units returned to camp and immediately made preparations for movement into combat. At 1400 the next day the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry began to load at Oro Bay. Three old destroyers of the four-stack type had been converted for transport service by removal of guns and two stacks. Half the troops, 510 men, embarked in these vessels. Nine other destroyers, each carrying an average of 57 men, transported the remainder of the landing force. The rest of the 5th Cavalry meanwhile moved by truck from Camp Borio to Oro Bay, where they would embark in LST's (Landing Ship, Tank) for their role as a support force if the reconnaissance succeeded. From Cape Sudest, just north of Oro Bay, they would sail up the coast of New Guinea to reach Cape Cretin, south of Finschhafen, by D Day.

At 0645 on the 28th the destroyer-transports of the attack group, the Humphreys, Brooks, and Sands, moved out under escort of the destroyers Reid, Stockton, and Stevenson. Six other destroyers, the Flusser, Mahan, Drayton, Smith, Bush and Welles, followed at 0819. Although Allied air superiority was counted on to give us supremacy over the reconnaissance area, the task force would be exposed to attack from the bombers and fighters remaining on New Guinea, New Britain, and New Ireland. From 10 to 18 enemy submarines were supposed to be in the vicinity of the Bismarck group.


The rendezvous point, fixed at some 20 miles below Cape Cretin, was reached at 1326. Here the attack group met the cruisers Nashville and Phoenix and the destroyers Daly, Hutchins, Beale, and Bache, which had also come up from the Cape Sudest area. Aboard the Phoenix were General MacArthur and Admiral Kinkaid. The mission of these ships was to protect the assault party from surface attack en route to the Admiralties, as well as to bombard specified targets in the objective area. Each cruiser was to furnish a spotting plane for the bombardment. Following the cruiser group by some 11 miles, the attack group moved in formation circle spaced at 1,000 yards. The route lay through Vitiaz Strait, between Long Island and the coast of New Guinea, then into the Bismarck Sea. Unchallenged, the convoy arrived at a point about 10 miles south of Los Negros at 0600 on D Day. The Phoenix, Daly, and Hutchins led out in column to conduct a reconnaissance approach toward Southeast Point. When daylight came an hour later, two observer planes took off from the cruisers. The sea was calm as H Hour approached, but the sky was completely overcast.



The Landing

H Hour was 0815. At 0723 the signal DEPLOY was given. The destroyers took up their fire-support positions and at H-35 minutes they opened fire on their assigned targets. The destroyer-transports moved into the transport area 5,000 yards off Hyane Harbor where the 12 LCPR's were swung outward on davits and lowered to the sea. Men of the first wave climbed down the nets on the destroyers' sides and filled 4 boats, 37 men in each. With a roar the LCPR's headed toward the rendezvous point offshore.

There was no sign of enemy opposition until the landing boats reached the line of departure, 3,700 yards from the beach. At H-28 minutes enemy machine-gun fire opened on the boats, which maneuvered radically as they stood in. Machine-gun fire was also directed against the destroyers and the Phoenix group to the south. Heavier shore batteries opened up; flashes could be seen from a gun near Southeast Point on the island, and what appeared to be 3- or 4-inch shells landed in the vicinity of the Flusser and the Mahan. Counterbattery fire from the Phoenix was landing short of this gun emplacement, so the Mahan shifted its fire there. This, combined with the cruiser fire which began finding the target, apparently was effective.

Air participation was limited by a heavy overcast and a low ceiling. Of the 40 B-24's scheduled to arrive during the naval bombardment, only 3 appeared before their appointed time to bomb the target area at H-47 minutes. The planned missions of four groups of B-25's fared little better, only nine appearing and these later than scheduled. No communications had been established with the B-25's nor could any of the planes be seen from the flagship, so the plan was called off for stopping naval gunfire at H-20 minutes to permit low-level bombing and strafing. The naval bombardment was continued for another 15 minutes. The order to cease fire was given at H-5 minutes and, although no aircraft were visible, starshells were fired as the attack signal for any strafers that might be in the vicinity. Shortly afterwards, the nine B-25's strafed and bombed the beach area in units of three each. All naval batteries were held in readiness to take the north and south points of the harbor entrance under fire if the landing boats were fired on by any guns there.

The first wave of landing craft reached the shore after the air attack, at H + 2 minutes. It received only slight enemy fire. As the


boats came in, a Japanese machine-gun crew on the beach hastily carried their weapon to cover. The boats grounded roughly on the beaches near the three small jetties while their .30-caliber machine guns, mounted forward, two to a boat, incessantly sprayed the vegetation near the water's edge. The first boat's party, soldiers of Troop G, led by 1st Lt. Marvin J. Henshaw, rushed beyond the narrow beach to the edge of a coconut plantation where there were fallen trees and kunai grass for cover. Here they lay prone, forming a rough half-circle with a 50-yard radius. They saw scattered groups of the enemy fleeing inland, some as far away as the other side of the air strip. Lieutenant Henshaw killed one with a long distance shot, and members of his platoon killed another. Not one of the soldiers who landed in the first wave was a casualty.

The landing craft, however, were receiving fire from enemy guns along the north and south arms of the harbor entrance, only 750 yards apart. The Japanese stationed on these strategic defense


points had kept to their dugouts during the shelling, but evidently came out as soon as the bombardment ceased. The first wave got through before the Japanese resumed their positions, but while returning to the destroyers, the boats were subjected to a cross-fire. The Mahan thereupon maneuvered parallel to the southern beach, about 1,000 yards offshore, and in 3 minutes from the time the crossfire was noticed, opened up with 40-mm and 20-mm guns. It could not, however, fire on the low-lying northern arm because of landing boats in the way. When the second wave started in, enemy fire was so heavy from the skidway area and north of it, as well as from the northern point of the harbor entrance, that the boats were forced to turn back until these points had been bombarded again by the Flusser and the Drayton. The fire of these destroyers, together with that of the Mahan on the southern arm, silenced the opposition and


the second wave was formed again and sent in. The boats' machine guns sprayed the north and south projections at the harbor entrance as they went through the narrow passage, then turned their fire on the skidway areas as they neared the beach.

The shore continued to be safer than the boats. At H+8 the 150 men of the second wave hit the beach and moved swiftly past the troops of the first wave, to a point 100 yards inland. At H+30 the


third wave landed, established a line just short of the air strip and fanned south, taking in two-thirds of the eastern revetment area. There was still no resistance.

It seemed too good to be true. The 1st Brigade reported to Sixth Army Headquarters at 0900 that the line of defense was established at 300 yards inland, with the "enemy situation undetermined." Fifteen minutes later the CP had moved to 500 yards inland. There was contact with the enemy only on the right flank, where patrols operating west and north toward the skidway received scattered shots. Men began to move about in the open, and by 0950 the entire Momote air strip was occupied. It was overgrown with weeds and littered with rusting fuselages. Pools of water had collected in the many bomb craters which covered the field. The shore fire control party with a naval liaison officer had arrived with the first wave and now began to find targets of opportunity. Using a 284 radio, its only means of communication with the ships, the fire control party directed the naval gunfire so accurately that three bunkers were destroyed and a battery of 20-mm dual-purpose guns damaged.

Although the situation on shore remained quiet, there was cause for concern at sea. The pilot in a spotting plane from the Phoenix, who had run into concentrated light antiaircraft fire around the harbor, observed that fire from 25-mm guns at the harbor entrance was hitting the boats of the third and fourth waves.


He dive-bombed and strafed enemy gun emplacements, and got one gun with a direct bomb hit. Despite his attack and the intermittent naval fire, enemy guns remained a threat to the boats going through the narrow passage to the harbor. Effective fire on one of the LCPR's is described by a Yank correspondent:

As we neared the channel, the Navy men in the bow hollered to us to keep our heads down or we'd get them blown off. We crouched lower, swearing, and waited.
It came with a crack; machine-gun fire over our heads. Our light landing craft shuddered as the Navy gunners hammered back and answered with the .30-calibers mounted on both sides of the barge.
As we made the turn for the beach, something solid plugged into us. "They got one of our guns or something," one GI said. There was a splinter the size of a half dollar on the pack of the man in front of me.
Up front a hole gaped in the middle of the landing ramp and there were no men where there had been four. Our barge headed back toward the destroyer that had carried us to the Admiralties.
White splashes of water were plunging through the 6-inch gap in the wooden gate. William Siebieda, S I/c, of Wheeling, W. Va., ducked from his position at the starboard gun and slammed his hip against the hole to plug it. He was firing a tommy gun at the shore as fast as wounded soldiers could pass him loaded clips. The water sloshed around him, running down his legs and washing the blood of the wounded into a pink frappe.


Two soldiers and the coxswain died. The other man of the four was uninjured.

Four of the boats were out of commission by the time the third wave had returned. Although three of these were soon repaired, it was decided not to put them to extreme risks again. Without the 12 landing boats, the reconnaissance force could not be evacuated. In an emergency it had been planned to send a converted destroyer into Hyane Harbor to take off personnel, but this would be a difficult venture. Therefore, the transport unit commander decided to "direct boat units as the situation warranted." The landing boats would no longer follow the prearranged schedule, but would attempt the harbor entrance only when it was thought the enemy gunners had been driven to cover by our naval bombardment, which went on intermittently against selected targets for about six hours.

"Hold What You Have Taken"

At H + 4 hours 35 minutes the unloading of the reconnaissance force was completed. For three hours the threat to the landing boats had been reduced by a heavy rain, which gave the landing force a distinct tactical advantage by reducing the visibility, making enemy fire from the arms of the harbor generally ineffective. It was not necessary for an APD to undertake the hazardous mission of entering the harbor through the narrow channel to silence the guns or to evacuate troops. The naval casualties suffered during the whole landing were two dead and three wounded. As the troops on shore moved inland, they fired at indistinct targets, and lack of concentrated enemy opposition allowed them to set up an antiaircraft machine-gun battery on the beach, unload supplies, and patrol inland. At 1100 two soldiers had been killed and three wounded against five known Japanese dead.

From the positions held by the first waves, the troops had gradually gone forward to cover the whole dispersal area of the airdrome (Map No. 5, page 30). The distance from White Beach to the southwest edge of the airdrome was about 1,300 yards. As patrols sent out beyond the airdrome began to report back, the commanders could decide the next move. Although one patrol had scouted 1,000 yards west to Porlaka without contact, and another almost as far north as the skidway before meeting any enemy, there was plenty


of evidence that the Japanese had recently been in the vicinity in some strength. One patrol that went about a mile south found the hastily vacated quarters of a high-ranking officer, as well as a bivouac area, and fired at a fleeing Japanese officer. Another found three big kitchens and a warehouse of food. Although the Japanese in the area had offered negligible resistance, our command expected a change in the near future. Captured documents revealed that 200 antiaircraft personnel had been encamped nearby. If these Japanese and others previously estimated to be on Los Negros should attack

MAP NO. 5 The First Day's Beachhead, 29 February


during the night, the whole dispersal area on both sides of the strip would be too large to defend with the thousand men of the reconnaissance force.

General Chase, commander of the reconnaissance force, and Lt. Col. William E. Lobit, commander of the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, agreed on pulling back to a perimeter east of the air strip and digging in. This defensive line made a right-angle turn due east at the middle of the air strip and ran just short of the strip. The arrangement permitted an unobstructed field of fire in front of the perimeter. No attempt was made to occupy the narrow Jamandilai Peninsula to the north; the cavalrymen dug in along the base of the peninsula.

The rain let up shortly after 1400. When General MacArthur and Admiral Kinkaid came ashore, General MacArthur decorated the first man to land, Lieutenant Henshaw, with a Distinguished Service Cross. He commended General Chase: "You have all performed marvelously. Hold what you have taken, no matter against what odds. You have your teeth in him now I don't let go." The reconnaissance was already a success. More than 1,000 men had been landed and had set up defenses against light Japanese resistance. The risk of the operation was justified. With the arrival of scheduled reinforcements on D+2, the area could be further secured and work begun on repair of the air strip.

General MacArthur returned to the Phoenix, which got under way shortly afterwards at 1729 for Cape Sudest, taking with it all the ships except two destroyers. The returning destroyers were low on ammunition; those in fire support areas Nos. 1 and 2 had expended 2,000 rounds of 5-inch. The two remaining, the Bush and the Stockton, cruised slowly off Hyane Harbor; they would furnish fire support to the beachhead when their communications set-up ashore could be established.

During the afternoon the reconnaissance force organized its defenses, which presented many difficulties. A good fox hole required back-breaking efforts, for the soil was heavy with coral. Since there was no barbed wire to put around the beachhead, men and weapons had to be spaced closely and every man available used for the perimeter defense. The 40 field artillery officers and men were assigned sectors for close-in defense, because their two pack howitzers could not cover the critical space in front of the defense line from


such a shallow depth as the perimeter allowed. They took over these sectors after the howitzers had blasted away for awhile at the Japanese known to be in the skidway area. For heavy weapons support, the twelve .50-caliber machine guns of the antiaircraft unit were moved into positions along the front line. Colonel Lobit took over an abandoned Japanese dugout with a triple-layer log roof and a dry, hard floor while General Chase set up the task force command post near a revetment toward the center of the triangular perimeter. Signalmen strung the perimeter with wire to make the necessary hook-ups for officers in the chain of command, and removed the radio sets for communication with Sixth Army Headquarters from an advanced position to a more sheltered bomb crater. Outposts were stationed beyond the strip on the far edges of the dispersal area. At 1920 the Bush was called on for interdiction fire on the


eastern tip of Manus, and at 1948 was ordered to fire a few rounds on the northern coastal strip outside the harbor.

The measures taken for night defense proved to be well justified. As documents captured later disclosed, the enemy was preparing to put up much more fight than had yet been indicated. The Japanese commander had issued the following orders to an infantry battalion defending the Hyane Harbor sector:

Tonight the battalion under Captain Baba will annihilate the enemy who have landed. This is not a delaying action. Be resolute to sacrifice your life for the Emperor and commit suicide in case capture is imminent. We must carry out our mission with the present strength and annihilate the enemy on the spot. I am highly indignant about the enemy's arrogant attitude. Remember to kill or capture all ranking enemy officers for our intelligence purposes ...

About dusk enemy riflemen hiding in the woods began to exchange fire with the outposts, which were soon called in. The enemy, however, apparently assumed that he would find our main forces close to the outpost line. An attack was started just after dark, but by the time the Japanese reached the line where the cavalrymen were dug in, the movement was no longer coordinated. Small groups of the enemy did, however, make aggressive moves against the 2d Squadron's position.

Groups of 7 to 15 Japanese kept edging in, flinging grenades at the weapons that fired. The only way the Japanese could be seen was by the light of grenade explosions or when the attackers got close enough so that a cavalryman crouched in a fox hole could see them silhouetted against the sky. Many of the Japanese were killed by machine-gun and rifle fire, but some got through and succeeded in cutting all telephone lines. Although infiltrations occurred on all edges of the perimeter, the attack was heaviest near the shore on the southern side. Here some Japanese reached the shore in the rear of the main defense line by swimming in from the sea with life preservers. The vegetation bordering the beach provided protection for these infiltrators. One group found an opening in the left flank of Troop E, holding the south sector, next to the field artillery unit that held along the shore. The enemy penetrated Troop E's defense line, entirely isolating the 3d Platoon. Without communication with its troop, the unit had to fight it out alone against very heavy attacks.

Nevertheless, communications were not greatly missed, since the only way to hold this small jungle area at night against an infil-


trating enemy was for each man to stay in his fox hole and fire at anything that moved. Alertness was the best defense; on one occasion an officer sleeping in a hammock above his fox hole was killed by a stealthy Japanese using a sword. Grenades were the chief close-in weapons of the enemy, and mortar fire continued to harass our troops throughout the night. The necessary tactic of firing at all movement made it extremely dangerous to venture from cover in the darkness and few men took the chance. Most of the wounded had to lie in their fox holes until daylight; some of them bled to death. Those who reached the operating rooms found them in former enemy dugouts where work was done on Japanese mess tables by the aid of electric lantern and flashlight.

Even the task force headquarters was not safe from Japanese attacks within the perimeter. Fifteen feet away from General Chase a strange incident occurred. In the words of his adjutant:

Two Japanese soldiers entered the CP area, apparently looking for something. They observed the CP surroundings for a moment or two and then stepped back to an opening in the CP perimeter. They then took hand grenades from their belts and began to speak in low monotone, apparently to form a plan of attack on the CP. Major Julio Chiaramonte, S-2 of the task force, observed the movements of the Japs but did not fire immediately because he was not positive at first that they were Japs. Upon hearing the chattering of the two Japs, Major Chiaramonte opened fire with his tommy gun. He killed one Jap and wounded the other.

By daylight the majority of the enemy survivors had disappeared back into the jungle. However, those who had infiltrated and reoccupied some of their former pillboxes and fortifications in the perimeter had to be cleared out by the tired cavalrymen. The Japanese inside our lines were well hidden, but they often gave their positions away by sniping. A Yank correspondent describes the difficulties of rooting the enemy from the perimeter:

At about 0730 the divisional wire chief, a captain, passed a pillbox and a Jap shot at him, hitting him in the groin and chest. Lying in the mud 6 feet from the tip of the V-shaped dugout, the captain pointed to the pillbox.

Pfc. Allan M. Holliday of Miami, Florida, and Cpl. James E. Stumfoll of Pittsburg, Kansas, who were coming up the track when the captain was shot, ducked behind the palms and began firing at the pillbox.

When four Japs ran out of the other entrance, they were cut down by a squad on that side. Holliday and Stumfoll crept up, tossed grenades into the opening near them. The Japs threw back two of the grenades but the others exploded inside the hole.


There was no noise after that inside, so Holliday and Stumfoll and a handful of other cavalrymen circled to the other entrance and started to pull the palm fronds away from the hole.

A Jap was sitting up inside, drawing a bead with a rifle. About 20 carbines and tommy guns practically sawed him in half. He folded over like a man in prayer.

The GI's heard more noises inside the pillbox but didn't bother to find out who was causing it; they just blew the roof in with TNT and grenades, and the battle for this particular pillbox was over.

Meanwhile the wounded wire chief had been pulled out of reach of the Japs by the ranking Medical Corps officer in the force, a colonel, who himself was slightly wounded by a grenade. A Signal Corps photographer, who tried to get movies of the action, was shot through the stomach.

Toward the end of the morning the Japanese dead within the perimeter were counted 66 against 7 Americans killed and 15 wounded. Seven critically wounded were evacuated to the Bush.


Reinforcements were still one day off. It was therefore imperative to know how much enemy activity the 2d Squadron could expect that night. Reconnaissance patrols were sent west and northward in the direction of the skidway. They were stopped after going only 400 yards and, as the pressure against the patrols increased throughout the day, it was apparent that the enemy was still present in force on all sides of the perimeter. At 1530 all patrols were recalled.

The perimeter was further contracted and tightened during the afternoon. Ammunition was called for, to be dropped from planes if the weather permitted. The planes arrived, but some of the air drops fell beyond the perimeter. Strangely enough, the officers and men who moved out to retrieve the ammunition were not fired upon, although the planes that came low, strafing beyond the perimeter, received enemy fire. One drop that fell well within the enemy's territory was set afire by strafing from the planes.

Naval guns and artillery were busy softening up positions that had been revealed in documents captured during the previous day's search of the bivouac area. Hyane Harbor and the southern coast of Los Negros were shown to be organized for defense with machine guns, mortars, and a few field pieces. The enemy had scattered ammunition and food supply dumps which also became targets. The 99th Field Artillery's howitzer sections were moved into positions in the front lines during the morning and fired 50 rounds on some of the targets that had been located. The two destroyers were given the maps that showed enemy gun positions and ordered to carry out area bombardment. The targets were first the area just north of the skidway, then Papitalai, then Porlaka and the skidway, fired at alternately. In the afternoon the targets were the road back of the Hyane Beach to the north, and concentration areas and fortifications back of the eastern tip of Manus as well as the tip itself.

The dispersal area west of the air strip was the chief target of an air bombardment by our planes which began at 1600. Heavy ack ack opened up against the planes at 1715 from the southern end of the air strip, so the Bush and Stockton closed to 1,000 yards and raked that area with everything they had. Both vessels made two passes southward and two northward. The air bombardment had unexpectedly good results, for while the bombs were falling in the dispersal area west of the air strip, about 100 Japanese ran pell-mell across the strip in the direction of the defense perimeter. A majority


of these were killed on the strip, but some reached the areas near the perimeter to the south. This rush was very definitely not an attack but a mass effort to get away from the bombs.

A few enemy aircraft appeared but failed to put up a successful defense. Eight enemy fighters were destroyed in air combat over Momote, including one shot down by an Allied combat transport dropping supplies, and four other enemy fighters were probably destroyed. One enemy element of 8 fighters and another consisting of 7 to 10 fighters intercepted twelve B-25's shortly after noon approximately 30 miles south of Momote. A B-25 was lost and one enemy fighter destroyed.

The afternoon was free from enemy activity except for a patrol which was discovered inside the perimeter at about 1600. The patrol's mission was evidently to kill or capture the American commanding officer. It was led by Captain Baba, the commander of the battalion which made the major attack on the preceding night. Although operating in broad daylight, the patrol came close to succeeding. The Americans were confident that the morning's mop-up had taken care of all the enemy within the perimeter. Secondary growth was thick in the area and the Japanese were unnoticed until they were within 35 yards of the task force command post. Once the group was sighted, a considerable amount of fire was placed on it. The Japanese lay concealed in the undergrowth and a single sniper pecked away with his rifle in the direction of the CP. Not knowing the size of the party, Major Chiaramonte set out with four men "to get the sniper." The task force commander and his executive officer directed the movement of the group either right or left according to movements in the underbrush, and the soldiers and Major Chiaramonte opened up whenever they detected any movements. As Major Chiaramonte and his party finally entered the area on which they had been firing, they heard a click followed by grenade explosions. Three of the Japanese had committed suicide. Another rolled over on his back and used his sword to commit hara-kiri. Fifteen dead officers and sergeants were counted, including Captain Baba.

Although another attack had not been expected before dark, the enemy made a coordinated effort against the perimeter at 1700. However, its intensity was undoubtedly lessened by the loss of the battalion commander and his staff, and its effect reduced by the further


tightening of the perimeter. The daylight was helpful in spotting targets and the Japanese were kept beyond the perimeter until nightfall. At 2000 the main attack ceased, but individuals and small groups continued to infiltrate throughout the night, including about 50 Japanese who crossed the harbor entrance by wading and by use of inflated life belts, and attacked our position at the base of the peninsula. It was a big night for the field artillery: not only did they fire 300 rounds of 75-mm at the approaching enemy but they killed 47 of the Japanese by small-arms fire within the artillery positions. The total of enemy killed within our positions for the first two nights was determined on the morning of 2 March to be 147, including those who had infiltrated during the second night and had been mopped up between dawn and 0900. Jamandilai Point was cleared by 1045 to prepare for the reinforcements scheduled to arrive during the morning and the defense of the area was turned over to the 168th and 211th Coast Artillery Batteries.

Enlarging the Perimeter

The 2d of March had been eagerly awaited by the troops, exhausted after the long strain of defending the perimeter against infiltrating Japanese, for about 1,500 combat troops and 534 naval construction men of the support force were expected to arrive to expand the perimeter and get the air strip ready for operations. The 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry, was to land, bringing with them the rest of the 99th Field Artillery Battalion. A machine-gun battery and a gun battery of antiaircraft would also increase the fire power in the perimeter. The 40th Naval Construction Battalion and other service troops were scheduled to come in with the support force so that work on the air strip could begin immediately. The beachhead would no longer depend on the light weapons and "K" rations that had sustained the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry.

The convoy with reinforcements commenced standing in to Hyane Harbor at 0926. Six LST's (three from Oro Bay and three from Finschhafen) and six destroyers, which were joined by the Bush at 0800, made up the convoy. Three destroyers were detached to accompany two minesweepers on a mission within Seeadler Harbor, while the others patrolled outside Hyane Harbor, ready to fire on targets when called upon.


The LST's came in just before 1000 while B-25's were bombing enemy positions. Light and ineffective enemy mortar and machinegun fire from north of the skidway was countered by the 40-mm machine guns and .50-caliber machine guns of the antiaircraft battery from the decks of the LST's, which also got good practice with their 20-mm, 40-mm, and 3-inch guns.

The big boats grounded to a stop, the doors swung open, and men of the support force spread out on the narrow beach. Bulldozers, the first vehicles to land, began to construct ramps for unloading supplies and vehicles. Sniper fire was encountered on the right flank of the beachhead where the 40th Construction Battalion had been assigned a defense section. The battalion's ditch-digger, a complicated machine that only one man in the unit had the patience and skill to run, scooped out a trench 300 yards long, which was protected by Seabees armed with BAR's and rifles. The battalion's 20-mm. gun, mounted on a truck, took position 20 yards behind the trench and opened up on the grove across the air strip from which the sniper fire had come.

Piles of ammunition and a large amount of construction equipment and rations soon cluttered the beach. Enemy reconnaissance planes flew over when the unloading was taking place, so it was urgent that a larger dispersal area than the perimeter allowed be obtained immediately. Accordingly, when Col. Hugh T. Hoffman, commander of the 5th Cavalry Regiment, arrived with the support force, he went to General Chase's headquarters and participated in planning an attack for the afternoon. All the dispersal areas not yet occupied were to be captured and consolidated, so that the perimeter would include roads on both sides and around the southern end of the airfield. Outposts were to be pushed 100 yards beyond the objective to permit the consolidation of the new perimeter, and then recalled at dark. The attack was to be supported by an air bombardment, naval gunfire, and artillery, and would be under cover of a smoke screen laid by an LCV (Landing Craft, Vehicle). Both squadrons of the 5th Cavalry would make the attack.

Bombing and strafing by B-25's, P-38's, and P-47's began at 1415. The western half of the airfield and the dispersal area were softened up for the ground attack, and the skidway and Hyane coast beyond were also targets. Bombs were also dropped on the strip of land forming the northern arm of the harbor. At 1500 the 5th Cavalry jumped


MAP NO. 6 Defense of the Airdrome, 2-4 March

off across the air strip, the newly arrived 1st Squadron on the left and the 2d Squadron on the right. Within an hour the entire airdrome was taken and the troops started to dig in along the line of the western and southern dispersal bays (Map No. 6, above). There were no casualties due to enemy action. However, the bomb line that had been set at the western edge of the air strip proved too close. Three bombs landed on an antiaircraft position and on a Troop E position, killing two men and wounding four.

The beachhead had been successfully extended against light opposition, but the new frontage was excessive for the strength of the


garrison. It was certain from the documents captured on searching the area that the enemy had a force of about 1,000 men of a reinforced mixed infantry battalion in the areas south and west of the airdrome, in addition to antiaircraft personnel. Earlier estimates had placed reserves at Lorengau, Lombrum, and Papitalai, totaling more than 2,000 troops, and these had also to be reckoned with. Although they had not yet been contacted, the possible use of these reserves against the north sector from the direction of Porlaka and the skidway was considered a greater threat than attack by the infantry battalion south of the air strip.

Nevertheless, the larger area was necessary for dispersal room, and General Chase estimated that the troops on the new perimeter could hold it against a coordinated attack by the Japanese, though some infiltration would be hard to prevent. All units behind the perimeter were therefore ordered to prepare close-in protection for their arms and equipment.

The construction battalion and a combat engineer troop had much work to do before they could prepare defenses for the rear areas. The construction battalion had gone to work at noon on grading and clearing the taxiway. As soon as the advance across the strip was made, three graders started clearing grass and top soil from the strip itself. These troops also buried the enemy dead, cleared firing areas for field artillery and mortars, and demolished enemy dugouts and fortifications within the position.

The defense preparations were thorough. To block possible enemy landings from across Hyane Harbor, two antiaircraft batteries and Company E of the 592d Boat and Shore Regiment defended the shore. The Seabees formed an inner defense line to the west and northwest of the brigade CP. Six rough trenches were dug out by a bulldozer and ten men stationed in each. The remainder of the 40th Construction Battalion elements remained in their trench on the right flank, which was now a secondary line behind the troopers. The critical north and northwest sectors were the 2d Squadron's responsibility. They prepared their positions with careful attention to interlocking bands of machine-gun fire, while the 1st Squadron dug in on the left flank.

The field artillery battalion was put into position some 500 yards to the rear, south of the jetties and shielded on the flank by revetments. The battalion front formed a half moon, enabling one battery


to cover each flank of the beachhead and all three batteries to fire in front of the central sector and on vital points and strategic routes most likely to be used by the enemy. The three batteries were placed so that each without changing position was able to cover not only its own sector but one sector on each side.

When the LST's were ready to return to New Guinea at 1700, General Chase asked for a heavy concentration of naval fire on the northern prong of the harbor entrance. The destroyers Warramunga, Mullaney, Ammen, which had screened the LST's arrival, along with the Bush, moved in to fire 50 rounds each from their main batteries at point-blank range. In spite of the bombardment, however, the LST's on leaving the harbor were fired on from the point by machine guns and had to shoot their way out. Since their guns were mounted forward, the ships had to back through the harbor entrance while firing at the enemy position north of the skidway and at those on the north point of the harbor entrance. When the LST's had gone, the destroyers resumed their positions to support the beachhead.


The first night in the enlarged beachhead passed by without crisis. An attack came at 2100, but it was not as severe as expected. The chief enemy effort was to push machine-gun parties and infiltration groups through the 2d Squadron's sector, and in particular through that held by Troop G. Communication lines were cut, radio equipment was slightly damaged, and a few Japanese penetrated as far as the field artillery positions. The artillery, prepared for interdiction fire, was not called on.

At daylight a systematic search for enemy within the position was started and all Japanese within the perimeter were killed. When the construction battalion began work on the air strip at 0900 some sniper fire was coming from beyond the strip, but the Seabees continued their work. The pattern of Japanese resistance was becoming clear. During the day our troops would probably meet little resistance except from snipers against front-line positions. At night, however, attacks could be expected and the cavalrymen would have to dig in and thoroughly prepare against these night actions.

With more troops the reconnaissance force could exploit its initial success with greater speed, and Sixth Army had already planned reinforcements. In spite of the early light resistance, General Chase never regarded the situation as completely safe with one regiment of cavalry against a possible 4,000 Japanese. Therefore, Sixth Army planned for the remaining units of the 1st Brigade to arrive by 6 March, and the 2d Brigade on 9 March. Because General Chase's requests were so urgent, Sixth Army Headquarters indicated that the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry, with a weapons company and additional field artillery would arrive by daylight of the 4th.

In the meantime, the 5th Cavalry was to meet the most severe test of the entire operation.

The Big Night Attack (3/4 March)

The Japanese infiltrating tactics caused the cavalrymen sleepless nights, but on occasion such close contact with the enemy proved to be useful to us. Before daylight of 3 March an enemy officer patrol had attempted to land on the shore of Hyane Harbor. The platoon leader of the shore company guarding the beach there allowed the boat to come in to land, then opened fire, killing all members of the patrol. Among the valuable documents discovered on the bodies was one


which gave the information that a strong attack would be launched that night.

Defense of the perimeter against what might be an overwhelming Japanese force dictated even greater efforts than on the day before. If the attack ordered in the captured document included the estimated 2,000 troops on Manus, as well as those on Los Negros, the beachhead would face a crucial test. Throughout the day the troops in the perimeter labored to make the position secure. Bulldozers cleared fields of fire in front of the 2d Squadron and destroyed Japanese pillboxes left inside our lines. By 1600 sufficient space was cleared around the artillery positions to permit two batteries to deliver fire in front of the greater part of the perimeter, and the third was able to cover the remainder with a small overlap.

Since infiltration was still the greatest danger for a small force holding a large perimeter in jungle and darkness, the front line positions were of prime importance. To offer as little space as possible for infiltration, each troop in the line would use all three of its rifle platoons. Automatic weapons covering front-line positions were basic in the fire plans; each of these weapons, in turn, was protected by two, three, or four dugouts on both flanks and rear manned by two or three riflemen. The approaches to these positions were strewn with mines, and trip signals were made of empty "C"-ration cans with lumps of coral inside for clappers, and hung on lengths of wire strung taut ten inches off the ground. In organizing defenses, good use was made of Japanese revetments, built to protect their airplanes in the dispersal bays on the air strip. These revetments were steep banks of earth reaching some 15 feet high; usually a large one was at the end of a bay with two smaller embankments flanking it to form a pattern which, from the air, looked like cleats on the sole of a football shoe. Near the crest of some of these mounds, on the reverse slopes, cavalrymen dug fox holes. Two .30-caliber water-cooled machine guns were then placed on the flat ground alongside the bunker and mounted to fire across the front of the position.

Supporting weapons were used to best defensive advantage. All the 81-mm mortars were massed near the center of the perimeter, while all the 60-mm mortars were moved close to the front line. The water-cooled .50-caliber machine guns of the antiaircraft were returned to their units, except for those on the northern end of the air strip. This side of the perimeter faced the skidway, whence the chief


attack was expected. Patrols had met the greatest opposition when working in this direction and toward Porlaka; enemy barges and troop concentrations had also been sighted on the northwestern shore of Hyane Harbor.

Preparations for the night defense included heavy daylight fire on the enemy wherever he showed himself. Groups of Japanese, observed assembling mostly north of the skidway, were dispersed by concentrations of artillery and naval gunfire. At 1600 artillery fire, as well as the fire of all the guns of the antiaircraft battery, was placed on enemy barges partially concealed by overhanging vegetation on the north shore of Hyane Harbor. All the barges taken under fire were either sunk or beached, and direct hits were registered on a 75mm field piece and two antiaircraft guns. In covering this area, the 40-mm and .50-caliber guns fired totals of nearly 2,000 and 12,000 rounds, respectively. Groups of Japanese were also observed inland northwest and northeast of the skidway. Naval guns took these areas under fire, as well as Porlaka, and the artillery fired a 72-round concentration on the skidway area around 1800. However, small-arms fire continued to come from this direction until 1900. just before dark destroyers bombarded the tree-covered reefs in the northeastern area of Hyane Harbor where other barges might be hidden.

The enemy started feeling out our lines at 2020. At 2100 an enemy plane came over and in three runs dropped eight bombs. They caused no damage save to cut all telephone lines leading to the 1st Squadron sector. As soon as the plane departed, two yellow flares went up from the vicinity of Porlaka, and a tracer, apparently 20-mm, was fired almost vertically from a position in front of the Troop B sector to the southwest. Almost immediately an attack supported by mortar fire was launched there as well as against the position held by Troops F and G to the northwest.

The attack against the 1st Squadron on the southwest was relatively light, the enemy strength here being estimated later at two reinforced platoons. Since the 1st Squadron's sector was covered by a heavy growth of secondary jungle forest, infiltration was a great danger. The sited positions of our automatic weapons were of little value in the darkness, so the cavalrymen picked up the guns and fired them from the hip.

The Japanese moved automatic weapons forward apparently with no other plan of action than to set them up in the open in front of


our lines, depending on darkness to conceal their positions. The excited talking of the crews gave their positions away and they became easy targets for the defending riflemen. The attackers were blanketed by mortar fire accurately placed 20 to 50 yards in front of the perimeter. Nevertheless, many of the enemy did infiltrate, some as far as the south end of the air strip where they hid in heavy brush or climbed trees to begin sniper operations at dawn. Because of the relative weakness of the attacking force, there was never any real danger that the 1st Squadron's positions would be overrun.

The attack on the 2d Squadron's position on the northwest was a greater threat, with over a battalion, as later estimated, advancing on this sector from the direction of Porlaka and the skidway against the whole of Troop G's position and the right flank of Troop F. Apparently the enemy's intention was to drive our troops from their perimeter and occupy the north end of the air strip. As the Japanese approached, they threw grenades which fell short of our lines. Then they ran into the mines; though practically all the antipersonnel mines and booby traps were exploded, the enemy kept on coming. In strange contrast to the well-concealed infiltrations of the previous nights, this time there was no effort at concealment. Talking and singing, the Japanese advanced into the protective lines of our automatic weapons. Those in front were cut down, but more kept coming, marching over the bodies of the first. Except for a few snipers who stole through the lines and tried to get at the heavy weapons from the rear, the enemy made no attempt to sideslip our heavy fire. The snipers, however, immediately cut all lines of communication.

The platoon leaders of Troop G, 1st Lieutenants Winn M. Jackson, Jack P. Callighan, Jr., and Henshaw, without communications with their troop commander or with each other, ordered their men to stay in their holes and fire at anything that moved. This proved once again to be the best defense. The automatic weapons continued firing to the front, while the riflemen in the pillboxes on their flanks and rear covered all attempts at infiltrations behind the machine guns. Shortly before daylight, numerous Japanese using knives and grenades worked themselves into Troop G's positions. The squadron commander organized a counterattack and drove the enemy out. The positions had been restored only a few minutes when the Japanese launched another strong frontal attack. A heavy machine-gun platoon, commanded by S/Sgt. Edwin C. Terry of Troop H, halted the


enemy attacking against Lieutenants Jackson's and Callighan's platoons and saved these forward positions from being overrun after they were out of ammunition. Groups of 8 to 30 dead Japanese were piled up in front of this sector the next morning.

Lieutenant Henshaw's platoon, fighting behind a well-defended revetment, took the brunt of several of the heavy atttacks on Troop G. The Japanese who got through the interlocking machine-gun fire and the enfilade fire from Troop F on the left tried to climb over the dead, straight up the west side of the revetment. They were cut down with machine-gun and rifle fire and grenades. Very few ever got over the revetment. The next morning 68 bodies were found around the position.

Although the attacks against the north flank, especially against Troop G, were almost overwhelming in size and frequency, many were uncoordinated attempts, and completely ineffective as long as our troops had ammunition. One column of Japanese came down the Porlaka road about an hour before daylight singing "Deep in the Heart of Texas." They were killed by antipersonnel mines and devastating small-arms fire from every gun in the emplacements. Subsequent examination of their bodies indicated that they were not under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. When the attacks against Troop G were exhausted, a little before daylight, an officer led 12 more enemy soldiers out into the open. They had advanced only a few yards when the officer pulled the pin from a grenade, tapped it on his helmet and held it against his stomach. The 12 enlisted men also killed themselves with grenades.

The attacks against the sector held by Troops E and F were limited to infiltrations toward mortar positions and command posts. The rear installations were covered by enemy mortar fire and machinegun fire while Japanese with grenades closed in on them and overran the positions. Five of the enemy set up a knee mortar on the top of Colonel Lobit's CP, a log-covered dugout. He heard them and passed some extremely quiet moments until Capt. Bruce Merritt in a nearby fox hole saw them and cut them down.

The Japanese tried a number of tricks and were occasionally successful. Somehow they learned the names of platoon leaders. On one occasion a Japanese yelled, "Retreat, Thorne, the whole regiment's falling back to another line." This caused the mortar platoon commanded by 1st Lt. William D. Thorne to leave their positions. Not


only did the platoon suffer three casualties, but it was unable to direct its mortar fire during the rest of the night. Another trick was to have individuals move about in front of the perimeter to draw the fire of machine guns. Then two or three snipers would fire tracers at any weapon that disclosed itself, enabling a mortar to open up on the position. Several cases of wire tapping of a 90-mm antiaircraft battery took place between 2230 and midnight, the wire-tapper claiming to be, on one occasion, a certain officer commanding a platoon, and on another, a sergeant. He reported in each case the disruption of our plans and the success of the enemy. Since his voice was not recognized, his messages were not heeded. However, a later message, although believed false, made the 211th Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion change its CP. At 2330 a single enemy plane with landing lights on made several runs at a low altitude dropping flares. In spite of orders to hold their fire, the antiaircraft battery opened up on the fourth run and drove the plane to the north, where it dropped bombs on Jap positions.

The antiaircraft and artillery crews worked and fought all night, sometimes coming into as close contact with the enemy as the cavalrymen in the front lines. Shortly after midnight the 90-mm and 40-mm guns fired on enemy barges coming across Hyane Harbor. None of the enemy reached the shore within our position. The guns continued firing concentrations on the northwestern shores of the harbor. The men of antiaircraft gun position No. 6, located just north of the jetties, fell back later under the pressure of the Japanese advancing from the skidway. The crew manning gun positions No. 7 and No. 8, further north and northeast, continued to hold out in this area, which became quite disorganized. No. 7 was later knocked out by a direct hit from a Japanese mortar. The members of the crew who were not casualties went to reinforce No. 8 gun. When Troop G counterattacked and cleared the enemy from its sector, the crew of the abandoned No. 6 position returned to their gun.

From 0200, when the enemy came in greatest strength along the Porlaka road, the entire 99th Field Artillery Battalion fired continuously to stop the attack. The mortars increased their rate of fire, and both their fire and that of the artillery were pulled in as close to our lines as possible. At 0300 when the main enemy strength was coming from the skidway against the north flank, Battery C and one section of Battery A ceased firing on the Porlaka road and supported


Troops G and F in repulsing attacks from the skidway. At this period the battalion was delivering fire on a front 3,800 mils in width. Infiltration caused trouble for the artillery by disrupting communications with forward observers. Battery C's line to its observer was soon the only one left, and it was tapped by Japanese who sent confusing messages in English. The line was abandoned and radio used the rest of the night. Three artillerymen were killed by infiltrating Japanese.

The Seabees, holding their secondary defense line behind the cavalry on the north side of the perimeter, also felt the effects of the furious attacks. Cavalrymen whose guns were knocked out, or who had run out of ammunition, came back to the Seabees' trenches. When a weak place developed toward the left side of the Seabees' positions, their extra ammunition was at the other end of their line.


First the men passed the ammunition to the front line by throwing the boxes from hole to hole, but when that seemed too slow they got out of their holes and ran with it, holding it low. just at daybreak, when only a couple of army guns were left firing, the Seabees on the north of their line moved up to defend the hard-pressed right wing. They arrived as the attacks subsided, but killed a Japanese soldier who had taken over one of our .50-caliber guns. Other Seabees ordered to cover the beach ran into a Japanese party attacking a .50-caliber and a Bofors gun position with grenades and rifles. The Seabees arrived too late to save some of the gun crew, but they killed the Japanese on the beach.

By daylight the infantry attacks were over. Rifle fire ceased, although shrapnel, which had begun to burst over the perimeter at 0330, continued to fall into our positions until 0730. The results of the night's battle were hard to determine because many Japanese casualties were carried off. The artillery concentrations and fierce hand-to-hand resistance of the cavalrymen made even the visible total of enemy dead large. One hundred and sixty-eight dead were counted in front of the Troop G sector, where the attacks were the strongest. In accounting for such large numbers of the enemy the machine guns on each side of the northwest revetment had expended plenty of ammunition; one had fired 5,720 rounds and the other 3,250. When a new outpost line was established on 4 March, over 750 enemy dead were counted. During this night, as on previous nights, no prisoners were taken. Our casualties throughout the day mounted to 61 dead, and 244 wounded. Nine of the dead and 38 of the wounded were Seabees. For holding the beachhead for five days and four nights against the main weight of enemy attacks and insuring success of the operation, the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, received a unit citation.


Sixth Army Headquarters had promised General Chase another squadron of combat troops for the 4th of March. The 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry, reinforced, which would arrive by destroyer and come ashore in landing boats, faced probable fire from the enemy known to be still north of the skidway. General Chase ordered a bombardment on this area beginning at 0500, which was carried out by the Warramunga and the Welles. More fire was put on the skidway area


and the areas immediately to the north of it by the Ammen and the Mullany, and the Arunta aided by the emplaced batteries of the 99th Field Artillery Battalion took over the bombardment of the skidway. While this bombardment was in progress, the reinforcements in three destroyer-transports and nine destroyers arrived at the harbor entrance.

On the completion of the bombardment the landing boats were lowered from the destroyer-transports and debarkation began. The first few waves met with slight fire from the north point, and on two occasions the Warramunga assisted by the Drayton bombarded it with deliberate fire from a distance of 1,200 yards. When enemy fire had virtually ceased, the Warramunga went inside the harbor to silence a machine-gun nest of five or six guns which had remained concealed by vegetation. The Warramunga closed and undertook point-blank fire, while the Mullany delivered call fire. The position was knocked out with the combined efforts of the naval guns and the B-25's and P-38's, which strafed and bombed north of the skidway and around the whole of Hyane Harbor as well as in the area west of the airdrome. The unloading of the troops on White Beach proceeded steadily from 0850 without any casualties in the landing boats. Gradually the positions of the tired 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, were taken over, after the gun emplacements and installations in the front lines had been pointed out to Lt. Col. Robert P. Kirk, the new squadron's commander. The 5th Cavalry's men, once relieved, dug in to the rear of the air strip and settled themselves for a good sleep.

Radio communications to Sixth Army Headquarters, which were stopped during most of the night because the noise of the generators drew enemy fire, were resumed early in the morning. General Chase made new demands on the basis of the night's experience and gave Sixth Army the current situation: "We hold entire perimeter. Everything under control." As the extent of enemy losses was not yet known, General Chase decided that the enemy strength opposing the beachhead on Los Negros was greater than previously estimated; a maximum of 2,000 enemy troops seemed a more likely number than 1,000. General Chase, therefore, requested more troops for 5 March. Huge quantities of ammunition had been expended in killing more than 700 Japanese, so an air drop of 100 cases of carbine ammunition and 1,000 rounds of 90-mm ammunition was also requested. The lack of barbed wire had made the defense against infiltration extremely


difficult, and supplies to remedy this situation were urgently required. In order that air operations could proceed as soon as possible a landing net was needed for the air strip.

Sixth Army had arranged for the 12th Cavalry to arrive on 6 March; therefore, the task force commander decided to wait until their arrival to launch an attack on Salami Plantation to the north, which Sixth Army Headquarters had designated as the next objective of the growing force on the perimeter. Patrols sent out during the day, which were able to reconnoiter freely in other directions, found resistance to the north still strong and were unable to advance beyond the skidway.

Defenses on the perimeter were again strengthened and the damage of the previous night was repaired. The wire crews had all lines in by 1238; all available bulldozers were put to work burying the enemy dead in front of the north and northwest sector and clearing fields of fire in the direction of the skidway. Batteries of the 82d Field Artillery Battalion were placed in support of the 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry, and batteries of the 99th Field Artillery Battalion supported


the northern sector now held by the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry. Regimental mortars (81-mm) were placed in a central location east of the air strip where they registered in. They were prepared to place call fire of 18 mortars in front of any sector. Ammunition was dropped by B-17's, and 95 percent was recovered and immediately supplied to all the front lines.

The defenses on the north were again the chief concern. At 1600 two squads of cavalry acted as security for engineers who put in a double row of antipersonnel mines across the skidway area, 200 yards beyond our lines. Halfway through the job the laying party was fired on by a Japanese in a concealed fox hole. Sgt. John V. Todd advanced alone and killed him. Before dusk the security patrol withdrew, and engineers proceeded to arm the mines. Shortly afterwards all except Sergeant Todd were driven away by sniper fire which came from the edge of a coconut grove. Sergeant Todd continued to arm the mines.

The Japanese positions near the skidway and to the north of it underwent a pounding by air bombardment, strafing, and naval and artillery concentrations. These efforts as well as the night attack, which had weakened the enemy considerably, reduced the strength of the last Japanese attacks against the now solid beachhead. Patrols of 10 to 15 men led by officers approached the perimeter during the night of 4 March, but all were disorganized and routed by our fire. Several Japanese did infiltrate, but caused little damage and were wiped out after dawn. Shortly after midnight, an enemy plane dropped three bombs which caused no damage. The next morning it was found that antipersonnel mines to the north had been exploded, killing an estimated dozen Japanese. Patrols also discovered a gruesome sight on the Porlaka road: 79 Japanese in one close group had committed suicide with hand grenades.

Enemy Side

The story of the enemy's initial feeble resistance to the landing on Los Negros and the sapping of his manpower in the ineffective attacks against the perimeter becomes clearer from the mass of documents captured in the course of the operation. The time and place of the landing took the defending garrison by surprise. After that blow, faulty intelligence reports and lack of coordination between units


were partially responsible for the Japanese failure to concentrate their forces against the beachhead.

The enemy probably judged that our main landing would be at Seeadler Harbor rather than Hyane, although the documents do not completely reveal his expectations. Seeadler Harbor was a better harbor and a logical main objective. The Japanese defended it with coastal guns on the islands outposting the mainland. Lorengau airdrome, which was evidently considered the first invasion objective point, was protected by beach obstacles not found at Hyane. Although antiaircraft units were stationed near the Momote air strip, only a few heavy guns were used against the landing forces at Hyane and, according to a prisoner, troops north of the harbor had only infantry weapons.

A document entitled "Emergency Defensive Plan," dated 1 July 1943 and drawn up for the force defending the Hyane sector, gave directions based on the supposition that Lorengau would be the point of our main landing. Los Negros was apparently designated as the place for a last-ditch resistance in the event of a landing at Lorengau; troops bivouacked near Lorengau were to withdraw to the force near Hyane. Papitalai and Porlaka Channel, which guard Los Negros from the direction of Lorengau, were "to be held firmly." It is possible that the enemy also anticipated a landing, or at least a diversionary attempt at Hyane, as it was discovered to be organized for defense with machine guns, mortars, and a few light field pieces. Perhaps the preinvasion reconnaissance by the Alamo Scouts on the south coast of Los Negros deceived the enemy as to the direction of the actual landing. Furthermore, the heavy naval bombardment probably contributed as much to the success of the landing as did the surprise.

The sequence of events is described from the enemy side in the messages from Colonel Yoshio Ezaki, the Commander of the Admiralty Islands Garrison, to his commander at the 8th Area Army Headquarters. Colonel Ezaki, whose headquarters during the first stages were at Papitalai, later at Papitalai Mission, was also the commanding officer of the 51st Transportation Regiment, which is referred to as the Manus Garrison Unit. When the attack came against Hyane Harbor, the 1st Battalion, 229th Infantry Regiment, called the Baba Force after its commander, Captain Baba, was assigned to the defense of Momote strip and the Hyane Harbor area. This force did not react against the beachhead until the night of the 29th. Colonel Ezaki reported a different story to the 8th Area Army, but he was presumably


misinformed, although the possibility that the colonel was deliberately coloring the situation for his superiors must be considered. According to his report, the landing began at 0400 of the 29th, and was checked by the 1st Battalion, 229th Infantry, with the aid of naval guns. Later in the day other information must have reached Colonel Ezaki, for he admitted that the strength on the beachhead was increasing. At the same time he passed on the erroneous report that American forces had landed "around the north point of Hyane Harbor and Salami Plantation."

Evidently on the basis of this Information, Colonel Ezaki kept the other large combat element stationed on Los Negros, the 2d (Iwakami) Battalion of the 1st Independent Infantry Regiment, at Salami instead of sending it to aid the Baba Battalion against the reconnaissance force at the air strip. He promised his superiors, however, that an attack would be launched that night. The first night attack on 29 February was made by 200 men with three mortars; two platoons of the 229th Infantry and one platoon of marines made up the force. Ezaki's account of the outcome was false: his report on the morning of 1 March indicated that the Japanese had defeated the Americans and were engaged in mopping-up operations. All day Colonel Ezaki misinterpreted the situation, probably on the basis of faulty or incomplete information as he was out of communication with the force at Salami. The situation around Hyane Harbor was not described as being serious—the total strength of the 1st Battalion of the 229th Infantry defending there was set at 1,429 after the attack—although two company commanders were known to have been killed and the battalion commander was listed as missing. During the day the Japanese commander's chief concern was the naval bombardment of his own headquarters at Papitalai.

By 2 March Colonel Ezaki was beginning to take a more realistic view of the situation. He admitted to his superior at the 8th Area Army that, in spite of the efforts of the 1st Battalion, 229th Infantry, the Americans had occupied the principal parts of the air strip. Orders were sent out to the garrison units on Rambutyo, Peli, Pak, and Pityilu Islands and at the inland village of Kawaliap to concentrate at Lorengau. To remedy the admittedly bad situation, Colonel Ezaki promised an attack at 2000. Elements of the Iwakami Battalion at Salami would attack the perimeter from along the Salami-Hyane road, while another company of infantry would come from western Los Negros


across Porlaka Channel to hit the air strip from the west. He also asked for air support to aid the hard-pressed Baba Force south of Momote and for an operation planned for dawn which was referred to as a "land battle."

However, the planned forces could not be assembled by the night of the 2d, so the attack was postponed to the night of the 3d. Evidently our naval and artillery fires had contributed to the disruption of the assembly plans for 2 March, since Ezaki promised on 3 March that "Even though communication and liaison becomes difficult because of the terrific bombardment, the officers and men will accomplish their mission."

After the very heavy Japanese counterattack on the night of 3 March, carried out principally by the Iwakami Battalion advancing from north of the skidway, Colonel Ezaki reported that the outer perimeter had been pierced in both the south and the north, and that the gains were held. His description of the mass attacks of that night is simple, as well as misleading. He maintained that the Japanese force "broke through the enemy's first line of defense but was unable to advance after attacking the second line. The Iwakami Battalion, which is the Salami Sector Unit, was led by the battalion commander in person and penetrated the northern sector of the airfield . . . ; these positions are held . . . . To extend these positions a portion of the Garrison Unit shall attack tonight."

The proposed attack of 4 March never came off. During the day Colonel Ezaki discovered the seriousness of the situation on Los Negros, which he admitted, with slight deviations from the truth, to headquarters of the 8th Area Army on 5 March:

On the night of the 3d the Iwakami Independent Mixed Infantry Battalion and the main strength of the Garrison Unit combined and attacked the enemy position and seized the southern half of the airfield. Casualties were high due to the severe bombing and shelling. The units were unable to hold because the ammunition ran out. We were defeated.

The former Hyane Sector Unit from the 229th Infantry Regiment suffered two-thirds casualties, is in the swamps west of Hyane and is engaging the enemy.

One company of reserve infantry and the transport battalion of the Sabukaleo (Papitalai Mission) Sector Unit suffered few casualties and their strength was not affected.

The night attacks will be discontinued and future attacks will be made by consolidating the units.

The enemy is continually bombing and reconnoitering by air and the enemy shelling is especially severe. Situation desperate.


A letter written by a lesser Japanese officer on 6 March reveals that animosities and lack of cooperation between units were partially responsible for the desperate situation in which Colonel Ezaki found himself on 5 March. This Japanese, an executive officer of a guard unit, was "Indignant about the enemy's arrogant attitude," but he also showed some lack of respect for Japanese units. He wrote: "The main force of the enemy which came to Hyane Harbor, north point area, landed successfully because Iwakami Battalion commander employed such conservative measures as to engage it at a rear position. Baba and Iwakami Battalions could not work together in close cooperation. Until 1 March, the battle was 'fogged up'." His belief that our main landing came on the north point of the harbor shows ignorance of the military situation, but the officer's remarks on the relationship between the two battalions on Los Negros are interesting. The letter suggests lack of coordination between the combat elements as well as a poor chain of command to the garrison commander, who was ignorant of the situation too long to make appropriate plans, or else incapable of controlling their execution by his battalion commanders.

If the attacks were not well coordinated or well planned, nonetheless the Japanese displayed a capability for hard fighting. Many service troops took part in the big night attack, using bayonets attached to 5-foot poles. The garrison's ammunition supply was low, and all troops had been directed to use it sparingly. It was also discovered after the big night battle that the majority of the dead Japanese had bandages tied around their arms at pressure points, presumably to enable them to continue fighting after the lower portion of their arms had been struck by bullets or severed. The lessened intensity of the night attacks and the mounting toll of Japanese dead after 3 March indicated that the beachhead on Los Negros need not fear a coordinated Japanese offensive. But the Japanese determination to resist to the last man, and the large number of the enemy thought to be left on the island, promised a continuation of hard fighting for the cavalrymen.


page created 28 June 2001

Return to Table of Contents

Return to CMH Online