[8-5.8 AA v. 19]
History of USASOS (United States Army Services of Supply Southwest Pacific) and AFWESPAC (Army Forces Western Pacific) 1941 - 30 June 1946
Military History of the United States Army Services of Supply in the Southwest Pacific
Chapter 18: Base at Lae Until March 1944
Historical Section, Army Forces Western Pacific
[Note: This manuscript was prepared at the end of World War II by the Historical Section of Army Forces Western Pacific as a chapter in the overall wartime history of the Services of Supply (logistical and administrative forces) in that theater. It was deposited on 24 June 1947 at the Office of the Chief of Military History (OCMH; now US Army Center of Military History) for reference use by historians preparing the official history of the Army in World War II. It is typical of the kinds of detailed studies routinely carried out by the combat historians during World War II. The original is on file in the Historical Manuscripts Collection (HMC) under file number 8-5.8 AA vol. 19, which should be cited in footnotes, along with the title. It is reproduced here with only those limited modifications required to adapt to the World Wide Web; spelling, punctuation, and slang usage have not been altered from the original. Where modern explanatory notes were required, they have been inserted as italicized text in square brackets. This item originally carried a SECRET security classification, but is now unclassified; all references to that past classification have been omitted.]
BASE AT LAE UNTIL MARCH 1944
The 23d Port Headquarters, originally Port Detachment C, was the organization that established the United States Army base at Lae, New Guinea. Port Detachment C had been activated on September 9, 1942 at Sydney, New South Wales, for the purpose of training, preparatory to setting up a headquarters in the combat zone (G.O. 14, Hq., USASOS, 9 September 1942). 1st Lt. McEwen, QMC, was assigned on October 16, 1942, and on October 22nd 1st Lt. Calvin Nation, who assumed command. On October 25th, these two officers moved to Warwick Farm, Sydney and the next day 20 enlisted man arrived for duty. A table of organization and a table of basic allowances were published on October 27th providing for 10 officers and 150 enlisted men. Cadres were set up for the following sections: Administration, Supply, Guard, Signal, Transportation, and Chemical Warfare.
On November 2, 1st Lt. Batchelor arrived and became the Commanding Officer and the Signal Officer. During the first week in November 100 men arrived. The personnel, draw from bases and units all over thy Southwest Pacific Area, consisted of excellent men, good men, men on limited service and others who had been reclassified and transferred. Training for Port Detachment C was begun about November 15, 1942 upon arrival of the equipment provided for in the Table of Basic Allowances. An additional 50 men arrived on December 10, 1942, which provided the full complement authorized by the table of organization.
On December 14, 1942 the entire organization moved to Kincoppal Barracks and came under the command of the Commanding Officer of the Ship and Gun Crew Command. Pursuant to his orders, the various sections in Port Detachment C took up duties with the corresponding sections of Headquarters USASOS, and the headquarters of Base Section 7, for the purpose of training. For instance,
the personnel of the Transportation Section of Port Detachment C commenced working at the docks in Sydney; personnel of the Signal Section of Port Detachment C commenced working at the Signal Centers of Headquarters, USASOS, and of Base Section 7. However, the guard duties assigned to Port Detachment C grew to such an extent that all other activities virtually ceased. Guard details were being utilized at the docks, at the Exhibition Building, at the warehouses at the Showground, at the warehouses at Parramatta, and at Mascot Aerodrome.
On February 10, 1943 Lt. Batchelor was transferred to Oro Bay and Lt. Nation became the Commanding Officer of Port Detachment C. Port Detachment C moved to Hornibrook on February 13th, where it furnished the guard for the Ordnance Depot. Some Signal Section personnel were detached to GHQ and to Headquarters, USASOS, for further duty and training. Also a cadre was formed from Port Detachment C to activate Port Detachment B, which later went to Goodenough Island.
Lt. Hufstetler was assigned to port [sic] Detachment C on February 22nd, and became the Commanding Officer by virtue of his being a line officer. Major Thomas E. Meyer became the Commander of Port Detachment C on March 19, and Captain Thoman was appointed Executive Officer during the last week in April. At this time all details were terminated and training began in earnest for each of the sections according to their specialty.
One officer and 20 enlisted men were detailed on May 1st to build a camp for Port Detachment C at Wentworth Park, and it was occupied on the 6th of May. About this time, Port Detachment C was committed as the Binocular Force, and assigned the mission of establishing a base at Lae, New Guinea upon its capture from the enemy. Col. Matthews assumed command of Port Detachment C; Major Dobb, Engineering Officer; Captain Maynard F. Davis was assigned and made Signal Officer; Lt. Lester Duffin, Officer of the Guard; Lt. Frank Persons, Transportation Officer; and Lt. Neil Fairbanks assigned to Headquarters
As [sic] advance distal consisting of Major Dobb, Captain Honigman, Lt. Duffin and 20 enlisted men was dispatched to Oro Bay in June. Their mission was to take enough equipment to establish a staging area at Oro Bay for Port Detachment C.
On August 5, 1943, by a general order to USASOS the personnel and equipment of Port Detachment C at Sydney became the 23rd Port Headquarters, and the former 23rd Port Headquarters at Darwin became Port Detachment C. The table of organization for the 23rd Port Headquarters provided for 86 officers, 5 warrant officers, and 407 enlisted men (G.O. 40, Hq. USASOS, 5 August 1943).
The Commanding Officer and his other staff officers departed from Sydney by air about August 15th to be in a position to coordinate future movements in New Guinea. The remainder of the officers and men of 23rd Port Headquarters embarked on the ship "Van Outhoorn" on the evening of August 19 and departed from Sydney at 7:00 A.M. the morning of August 20th. The ship was small and crowded, and the accommodations for the men were bad. They were crowded, quartered in the "tween decks" on mattresses on the floor. The ceiling was not much over six feet high, there was poor lighting and little ventilation. The average floor space per man was 18 square feet. As the ship progressed north the weather became hot to the point where it was almost impossible for the men to remain below decks. The aroma of the native crew plus 600 crated animals on the aft deck added to their discomfort.
Two ships joined the "Van Outhoorn" outside of Newcastle the afternoon of August the 20th. A brief pause outside Brisbane August 23rd to join a 16 ship convoy was the only stop until the "Van Outhoorn" took on coal at Bowen on August 26th. This left things on the ship covered with coal dust, which took two days to remove. The personnel were allowed to go ashore at Bowen in groups under supervision of the officers.
The voyage was resumed late on August 27th and the ship arrived in Townsville the next day. A guard detail volunteered to remain on the boat, and all others were taken ashore in groups in landing barges. No transportation had been provided, and they proceeded on foot to Armstrong Paddock, a distance of approximately six miles, arriving at various times between 10:00 P.M. and 1:00 A.M. There was no food prepared for these men and quarters had not been provided. This six mile hike resulted in some men becoming temporarily disabled from sore feet, ranging from blisters to "raw bleeding sores".
The men remained billetted at Armstrong Paddock until time to embark again. The "Van Outhoorn" departed from Townsville in the next convoy for New Guinea. Later the convoy divided, part going to Port Moresby and the rest to Milne Bay. After a brief pause to pick up charts and maps outside the harbor at Milne Bay on September 8th, the vessel proceeded to Oro Bay where it docked at 3:00 P.M. on September 9th.
Although the dock area still under construction, the unloading of the ship commenced immediately. As a precautionary measure, all communications equipment was then uncrated and examined to make certain it was all in working order. Due the customary rough handling of dock workers, every item of equipment had been damaged in some way.
On the morning of September 18th, General Connell, who was at this time in command of 23rd Port Headquarters, called the staff officers of 23rd Port Headquarters to Port Moresby, New Guinea for a conference. Prior to their departure, arrangements were made as to the personnel and equipment to go on the initial landing party and determination was made as to the portion to remain behind.
Lae was captured at 12 o'clock no[o]n on September 18th, and the mopping-up
was completed by 2:00 P.M. Officers and enlisted personnel of the 23rd Port Headquarters T.C. arrived on the LST Beach on the night of September 19th, the next day after Lae had fallen into our hands. A flashlight held by a member of the 532nd Boat and Shore Battalion brought the LSTs (Land Ship, Tanks) into position for unloading. Due to soft sand, lack of roads suitable for the heavy trucks and equipment, barbed wire entanglements, bomb craters and old Japanese bunkers, the unloading was not completed in the three hours time that Navy Regulations permitted the LST to stay on the beach. The LST arrived at 2300 hours and departed at 0300 hours the next morning. Men worked in total darkness. The sand was from six inches to eighteen inches deep. Many trucks were stuck on the beach and were pulled out by a bulldozer furnished by the Australians.
During the entire period of transportation operations, Lieutenant F. Persons and his staff of 15 enlisted men had to contend with unsound footing of the sandy beach, barbed wire entanglements, the litter of wrecked Japanese landing barges, engineer equipment, twisted gun emplacements, bomb craters and one lone mud road leading into the Lae base. When discharging the camp was first attempted on the beach, vehicles mired down in the uncertain sand, but a continuous strip of landing mat over the face of the beech proved very satisfactory and trucks were enabled to move about easily. Despite the difficulties, cargo was discharged efficiently and quickly. Generally each evening at 2300 hours a convoy of three or four LSTs would move in, and unloading began immediately. This was continued with the greatest possible speed until 0400 hours the following morning, when they would depart, whether completely or only partially discharged. The cargo, which had been placed in the area just in rear of the beach during the night, was sorted out and dispatched to
the proper destination during the day. It appears as though each time a convoy came in, heavy rains ensued. The weather presented very considerable difficulties for the signal men, whose job it was to see that the LSTs came into the beach in proper order. The signal tower was a tall tree, fitted with makeshift steps. The signalman would climb up these steps, and then crouching over on a small platform, with his flashlight picking out the code in the night, he would direct the barges to come in.
It was a matter of interest that on the second night after arrival a Japanese Medium bomber came over and dropped a bomb close to a Japanese vessel scuttled on the LST beach. It was a very near miss. Later it was learned that an amount of valuable steel netting and other stevedore supplies were on the vessel, which the Japanese evidently did not want to have captured in condition to be used. However everything of value on this vessel was salvaged and put to use.
The first two to three weeks were devoted to establishing campsites. The flies were extremely bad at first. However, the situation was remedied by filling in various old latrines left by the Japanese, and by burying the rotting Japanese rice which was cached in several places.
The basic purpose of Lae as a port was to supply Nadzab, which at this time was the primary air base of the southwest Pacific Area. All activities of the base were centered on the fulfillment of this mission, and every effort was bent in this direction.
The Corps of Engineers had the Lae Aerodrome in operation a day and a half after the landing. Immediately thereafter, the bulk of Engineer troops
started working on the Nadzab road. Twenty-five miles of first class road from Lae to Nadzab was completed by December 15, 1943, three months after the fall of Lae. This made possible the construction of the facilities for the four aerodromes at Nadzab from which the Fifth Air Force operated. During this same period the Corps of Engineers constructed a pipeline to Nadzab, two pile docks of size to accommodate liberty ships, a floating dock and an excellent road network. With the completion of these essential installations, construction work was devoted to the development of other base installations. Engineer, Signal and Ordnance dumps were developed, and two hospitals were constructed.
The Base Service Commander coordinated the work of the different sections. The Base Service Command obtained maximum utilization of all USASOS personnel, supplies and equipment by shifting such personnel and equipment from employment by one of the Services to employment by another as required by the type and volume of supplies and equipment entering the base for distribution at the various dumps. A special plan was devised to expedite the release of trucks at the various dumps. Under this plan the Port Commander furnished all interested headquarters, staff sections and commands with information with respect to incoming cargo. By this means sufficient personnel and equipment, to handle incoming cargo, could be planned. When additional personnel and equipment were required for this purpose a request for these was sent to the commanding officer of the Base Services Command. By this means, the USASOS personnel and equipment available were moved to various tasks wherever they were most needed, and subjected to maximum utilization.
The Commanding General of the base at Lae, Base E, Brigadier General
C. W. Connell was assigned to USASOS Pioneer Task Force #1, and assumed command. Thereupon Colonel E. Jeff Bernette became Commanding Officer, Base E, on January 11, 1944 by General Order No. 1, Headquarters, USASOS, Pioneer Task Force No. 1.
Under the command of Colonel Barnette [sic] the Base expanded greatly. Upon the completion of all vital installations, a certain amount of equipment and personnel was used to improve lighting conditions, working conditions for the personnel of the Headquarters of Base E. The quarters of all officers and enlisted men were raised off the ground. Excellent mess halls were built for both officers and enlisted men.
A new building to house the headquarters of Base E was erected on the terrace overlooking the harbor. This was a great improvement over the former headquarters, which consisted of scattered pyramidical tents.
During this period the morale of the personnel of Base E was high. Three motion pictures presented each week at various accessible locations within the base. Such movie stars as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Una Merkel and Phyllis Brooks visited Base E for personal appearances to entertain the troops at this base. The post exchange of Base E had a considerable stock of post exchange supplies available which contributed to the comfort and happiness of all the personnel at this base.