Urbana Front: Capture of Buna Mission (15 December-2 January)

The action on the Urbana front, without tank support, moved forward less dramatically but with equal success. Buna Village had been taken on 14 December by the 3d Battalion, 127th Infantry. On 16 December the Coconut Grove was taken, but attacks against the Triangle from 17 to 2o December failed. In the course of the next 3 days, units of the 127th Infantry established a bridgehead on the east bank of Entrance Creek north of the Triangle, and on 24 December they began to push a wedge to the sea between the Mission and Giropa Point. By 29 December the wedge had been driven through. The enemy thus cut off in the Mission was assailed each day until 2 January, when the Mission fell. This ended the last organized resistance in the Buna area, but for the next few days it was necessary to mop up the whole region.



During the afternoon of 15 December, E and F Companies, 128th Infantry, attacked the Coconut Grove, which commanded the Buna Village trail northwest of the Triangle. By evening they had surrounded it, and the following morning they smashed through to Entrance Creek. Their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith, charged at the head of a squad to take one bunker; Sgt. Howard C. Purtyman of F Company led his squad to take another; Cpl. Daniel F. Rini of E Company captured a third bunker almost single-handed. During the mopping-up, Cpl. Rini was shot in the head by a wounded Japanese whom he was trying to aid. Thirty-seven enemy dead were buried.

The Triangle still commanded our best line of supply, the Ango, trail; it was imperative to take this strongpoint before attacking the Mission directly. G Company, 128th Infantry, attacked up the trail on the 17th but lost 10 of the 27 men in the company within half an hour. During the night of the 18th, the 2d Battalion, 126th Infantry, moved up and shortly after daybreak on the 19th launched another attack. Thirteen A-20's dropped to tree-top level to plant almost 500 20-pound parachute bombs and to strafe the Triangle; then E and G Companies moved forward behind a rolling mortar barrage to within grenade distance of the enemy. Here enemy rifle, grenade, and small-mortar ("knee-mortar") fire met them. Capt. Boice, third commander of the battalion since Port Moresby, was killed in the action, and the battalion fell back. At 1600 another mortar concentration heralded a new attack, but the troops could not advance and dug in where they were. During the night the battalion was relieved. Thirty-four men, almost half the strength of the units involved, had been killed or wounded.

The 2d Battalion, 127th Infantry, under Lt. Col. Loren L. Gmeiner, had relieved the 2d Battalion, 128th Infantry, on the 18th and now put E Company in the lines at the Coconut Grove. On 20 December this company under Capt. James L. Alford attacked the Triangle from the northwest. Crossing Entrance Creek at 0845 under an artillery concentration, they tried to rush the position under cover of a smoke screen laid down by mortars. The attack failed. At 1230 they tried again. One platoon charged with grenades after the rest


of the company had sprayed the region with tommy-gun and other small-arms fire, but the Japanese had evacuated the positions under fire and set up their automatic weapons to cover all approaches to the bunkers. The assault platoon, under Lts. Paul Whitaker and Donald W. Feury, was hit by enfilading fire and suffered many casualties, including both officers. E Company lost 35 men in the day's fighting.


These gallant attacks made clear the extreme difficulty of taking the Triangle by direct assault. As a result it was decided to contain the Triangle, to cross Entrance Creek above the Coconut Grove, and to drive to the sea from there. Under cover of darkness on 21 December, K Company, 127th Infantry, pushed across the creek and established a bridgehead well to the north of the Triangle. This bridgehead was expanded by K and I Companies on the 22d; the same day a platoon of F Company crossed Entrance Creek to Musita Island in the lagoon at the mouth of the creek.

On the 23d the engineers finished a small footbridge across Entrance Creek at the edge of the Coconut Grove, and five companies of the 127th Infantry prepared to push to the sea along the track through the open field known as Government Gardens. The attack on the 24th started at 0615, but the units advancing behind a rolling artillery barrage soon lost contact with one another in the 5-foot-high kunai grass. On the right, I Company was held up by fire from enemy bunkers located along the right fork of the Triangle. During their attack, 1st Sgt. Elmer J. Burr lost his own life but saved his company commander by smothering the explosion of an enemy hand grenade with his body. At 0950 I Company, relieved by G Company, pulled back to reorganize. G Company took three of the bunkers but got no farther.

One platoon of L Company, split into patrols, broke through a weak spot in the defenses and got to the beach. Sgt. Kenneth E. Gruennert, leading one of these patrols, charged a bunker single-handed and put it out with hand grenades and rifle fire, killing three of the enemy. In the cover of this bunker he bandaged a serious wound in his shoulder and charged a second bunker. Its garrison fled from his grenades, but snipers killed him before the rest of his patrol could come up. Other groups followed, led by two officers. Lt. Charles


Photo: Bridge over Entrance Creek to Musita Island

Bridge over Entrance Creek to Musita Island.


A. Middendorf was killed in the fight, and Lt. Fred W. Matz was wounded by our artillery, which did not know our troops had advanced so far. The Japanese closed in behind our forward elements, and after dark the surviving men withdrew, circling east of the enemy positions.

In a renewal of the attack on Christmas Day, first F Company under Capt. Byron B. Bradford, and then A Company under Capt. Horace N. Harger worked their way across the Government Gardens, crawling through the grass from bunker to bunker and knocking the garrisons out with grenades. They reached the Government Plantation in the vicinity of the road junction 700 yards southeast of the Mission, but the enemy attacked their rear and destroyed the Weapons Platoon of A Company. Two attempts to establish telephone communication failed. The problem during the heavy fighting of the next 3 days was to regain and maintain contact with this forward spearhead by clearing the enemy out of the north half of Government Gardens.

On 27 December General Eichelberger came up and directed the operation. A command group under Col. J. S. Bradley, Acting Chief of Staff, Buna Forces, undertook to establish a corridor to the 3 forward companies (A, F, and also B, which had just come up from Ango), now commanded by Major Edmund R. Schroeder. By the morning of 28 December this was accomplished. This action completely cut off the enemy in the Triangle, and a volunteer group from E Company led by S/Sgt. Charles E. Wagner and Pfc. James J. Greene, attacked this position in the evening. They found that the enemy had at last evacuated it. Examination of the Triangle disclosed no less than 18 bunkers, mutually supporting and connected by trenches.


Even before the occupation of the Triangle, it was clear that the 127th Infantry had Buna Mission in its grip, but it took 4 more days to squeeze out the enemy. K Company attacked across the creek east of Musita Island on the late afternoon of the 28th, but the men who crossed in assault boats, unable to land in the face of heavy enemy fire, returned to our side. The weight of the attack was accordingly switched to the two ends of the arc about the Mission. On the 29th


Photo: Buna Mission Area

Buna Mission Area.


B Company extended the corridor southeast of the Mission to the sea and thus isolated the Mission from the enemy still holding out at Giropa Point. During the night of the 29th a patrol from H Company under Lt. Alan W. Simms waded across the mouth of Entrance Creek from the spit on the Village side to the spit on the Mission side and reported the crossing feasible. On 30 December, F Company, 128th Infantry, was moved up to Buna Village. A final assault was planned for the 31st.

Before dawn E Company, 127th Infantry, and F Company, 128th Infantry, began wading across and by 0500 had gained the spit on the Mission side without opposition. Then some of our troops advanced too far and alerted the enemy. E Company swung east but was unable to clear the bridgehead needed for G Company, 128th Infantry, which was to cross by the bridge at the east end of the island and attack northeast toward the Mission. The 1st Battalion, 127th Infantry, advancing on the right flank as the other jaw of the pincers, was held up along the beach.

Yet the end was not far off. A patrol of the 2d Battalion, 128th Infantry, made contact with the Warren Force on the 31st; on 1 January the 1st Battalion, 127th Infantry, could see our tanks in the vicinity of Giropa Point. All through the afternoon of the 1st, patrols in the neighborhood of Siwori Village kept reporting Japanese swimming from the Mission toward Tarakena.

On the morning of 2 January, the Urbana Force shifted its pressure to the corridor which it had forced through to the sea between Giropa Point and the Mission. G Company, 127th Infantry, under Capt. William Dames, swept forward on a 15o-yard front in a final push up the coast. Many of the enemy attempted to escape an inevitable doom by taking to the sea, some swimming, others paddling small boats, rafts, and logs. These fugitives were machine-gunned by our coastal patrols and strafed by our planes. Meanwhile, the remaining Japanese were driven slowly up the coast through the desolate wreck of Buna Mission. The commander of the 1st Battalion, Maj. Schroeder, was mortally wounded, but the advance continued. By 1550, H Company had crossed from the island and was moving northeast; at 1600 G Company had reached the point of the Mission. Organized resistance was over. After 45 days of fighting, Buna Mission was ours. The Japanese force at Buna had been destroyed.


Of the original 2,200 men, 1,450 were captured or buried by our troops. Many others were buried by their comrades in the course of the battle. A few escaped into the jungle, where they starved or were hunted down. Still fewer succeeded in swimming to Sanananda, where they shared the fate of its defenders.


Photo: Offensive Action in Buna Mission

Offensive Action in Buna Mission.
Men of G Company, 128th Infantry, firing into Japanese bunker.


Photo: Buna Mission after the Battle

Buna Mission after the Battle.

Photo: Japanese Dead near Buna Mission, 3 January

Japanese Dead near Buna Mission, 3 January.


page created 10 July 2001

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