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Title: Up The Slot: Marines in the Central Solomons
Author: Melson, Charles D.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Up The Slot: Marines in the Central Solomons" ***

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Transcriber’s note: Table of Contents added by Transcriber and placed
into the Public Domain. Boldface is indicated with =equals signs=.


Contents

  Up the Slot: Marines in the Central Solomons
    Sidebar: Under The Southern Cross
    Sidebar: Individual Combat Clothing and Equipment
  The Munda Drive and the Fighting Ninth
    Sidebar: The ‘Green Dragon’ Landing Ship, Tank
    Sidebar: The ‘Long Tom’ 155mm M1A1 Gun
    Sidebar: Field Medicine
    Sidebar: Flight Clothing and Equipment
  Milk Runs and Black Sheep
    Sidebar: The Douglas R4D ‘Skytrain’
  A Joint Pattern for Victory
  Sources
  About the Author
  About the Series
  Transcriber’s Notes



    UP THE SLOT:

    MARINES IN THE
    CENTRAL
    SOLOMONS

    MARINES IN
    WORLD WAR II
    COMMEMORATIVE SERIES

    BY MAJOR CHARLES D. MELSON
    U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET)


[Illustration: _The approach to Rendova Harbor as seen from the deck
of an LST carrying Marines ashore. It sails through the narrow Renard
Entrance with Rendova Peak in the background and the Lever Brothers’
landing at the right just around the bend. (Marine Corps Historical
Collection)_]


[Illustration: _The objective of the Central Solomons campaign was
the Japanese airfield on Munda Point, which, in friendly hands, would
be a stepping-stone in the conquest of the Solomon Islands chain. The
airfield runs west to east and a taxi-way snakes through both sides of
the field. Kokengolo Hill is on its north side. This photograph records
the results of a Marine dive-bomber attack, which resulted in a hit on
a gas or ammunition dump in the center of the picture. (Department of
Defense Photo [USMC] 55454)_]



Up the Slot: Marines in the Central Solomons

_by Major Charles D. Melson, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)_


Operation Watchtower was the codename assigned by the Joint Chiefs of
Staff for the reduction of the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul, on the
easternmost tip of New Britain Island in the Bismarck Archipelago. The
plan called for the South Pacific Area forces of Vice Admiral Robert L.
Ghormley (relieved in November 1942 by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey)
to move up the chain of the Solomon Islands toward Rabaul, beginning
with the Guadalcanal landings on 7 August 1942. In December that year,
patrol flights taking off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal and from
the decks of U.S. fleet carriers in the waters around the Solomon
Islands discovered the Japanese hard at work on a well-camouflaged
airfield at Munda on the northern end of New Georgia. This new
field posed a definite threat to the Allies still fighting to wrest
Guadalcanal from the enemy. It had to be taken, or at the very least,
neutralized. U.S. pilots also reported another field being completed on
Kolombangara across the Kula Gulf from New Georgia.

In response to these potential threats, Operation Toenails, landings
in the New Georgia Islands in the Central Solomons with the capture
of Munda as the primary objective, were planned, scheduled, and
mounted. The first step leading to the invasion of New Georgia was the
occupation of the Russell Islands, 65 miles northwest of Guadalcanal,
which would serve as a forward base on which airfields would be
constructed. Operation Cleanslate on 21 February 1943 saw the Marine
3d Raider Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Harry B. Liversedge) land on
Pavuvu, and the 43d Infantry Division (less a regimental combat team)
invade Banika. Both landings were unopposed. The 11th Defense Battalion
landed on Banika the same day and had its guns in place by noon. By
15 April, Allied aircraft began operating from the first of two new
airstrips the Seabees constructed on Banika.

The primary objective of Operation Toenails was the capture of the
airfield on Munda in the New Georgia group. Preliminary landings to
support the main effort were to be made at Wickham Anchorage on Vangunu
Island, Viru Harbor, and the Bairoko Harbor areas of New Georgia.
Rendova Island and smaller islands nearby, across Blanche Channel to
the south of New Georgia, were to be occupied next and used as supply
bases and also as artillery positions for delivering supporting fire
for the main attack on Munda. The plan called for ground forces then
to drive the Japanese into the Munda Point area and once they were
there, Allied air, artillery, and tanks could support the main landing.
The enemy “would be annihilated or forced into a costly withdrawal,”
according to the Allied concept of the operation.

For Toenails, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, Amphibious Force
Commander, divided his assigned forces into two task groups: Western
Force, which he would personally command, was to seize Rendova,
Munda, and Bairoko. The Eastern Force, under Rear Admiral George H.
Fort, also an experienced amphibious force commander, was directed
to capture Wickham Anchorage, Segi Point, and Viru Harbor. Turner’s
ground commander was Army Major General John H. Hester, who headed
the New Georgia Occupation Force (43d Infantry Division; Marine 9th
Defense Battalion; the 136th Field Artillery Battalion from the 37th
Infantry Division; the 24th Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees);
Company O of the 4th Marine Raider Battalion; the 1st Commando, Fiji
Guerrillas; and assigned service troops). Fort’s Eastern Force included
Army Colonel Daniel H. Hundley’s Army 103d Regimental Combat Team
(RCT), less a battalion with Hester; Companies N, P, and Q of the 4th
Raider Battalion; elements of the 70th Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft)
Battalion; parts of the 20th Seabees; and service units. Colonel Harry
B. Liversedge’s 1st Marine Raider Regiment (less the 2d, 3d, and 4th
Battalions) was designated ready reserve for the operation, while the
Army’s 37th Infantry Division (less the 129th RCT and most of the 148th
RCT) was held in general reserve on Guadalcanal ready to move on five
days’ notice.

[Illustration: THE SOLOMON ISLANDS

1943]

Hester’s corps headquarters was formed by taking half of the 43d
Division staff, the rest remaining with the Assistant Division
Commander, Brigadier General Leonard F. Wing, USA. Over 30,000 men were
in the units assigned to the New Georgia Occupation Force, the majority
of which were Army troops, Marine and Seabee units, patrol-torpedo (PT)
boat squadrons, and naval base personnel. Marines from the 10th and
11th Defense battalions were in reserve as reinforcements.

[Illustration: _Col Harry B. Liversedge commanded the 1st Marine Raider
Regiment and the XIV Corps Northern Landing Group. His mixed Army
and Marine command was used as infantry rather than in the special
operations role for which the raiders had been trained and equipped.
Isolated from the main attack on Munda, he had to commit his forces to
supporting operations._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

Defending the New Georgia Island Group were the _Southeast Detachment_
of Major General Noboru Sasaki and the _8th Combined Special Naval
Landing Force_ under Rear Admiral Minoru Ota (later to die as commander
of Japanese naval forces at Okinawa); subordinate units included the
_13th Infantry Regiment_, _229th Infantry Regiment_, _Kure 6th Special
Naval Landing Force_, and the _Yokosuka 7th Special Naval Landing
Force_. New Georgia and Kolombangara, and enemy outposts on Rendova,
Santa Isabel, Choiseul, and Vella Lavella, were strongly defended. The
number of Japanese occupying the outlying islands was comparatively
small. The forces on Kolombangara were “estimated” at 10,000 troops
while those on New Georgia were figured to be between 4,000 and 5,000.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_LtCol William J. Scheyer, third from the left, was the 9th Defense
Battalion commander. He is shown at his New Georgia command post with
Col John W. Thomason, Jr., second from the left, from Admiral Nimitz’
CinCPac headquarters at Pearl Harbor, and Maj Zedford W. Burriss of the
10th Defense Battalion on the left._]

1st and 2d Marine Aircraft Wing squadrons based in the Russells and
Guadalcanal under the control of Brigadier General Francis P. Mulcahy’s
2d Marine Aircraft Wing forward echelon staff would provide air support
for the operation. The staging areas for the attack on New Georgia were
Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands, where the Marine 4th Base Depot,
commanded by Colonel George F. Stockes, established a supply dump for
XIV Corps.

In mid-Spring 1943, reconnaissance parties from the units slated to
take part in the New Georgia campaign began patrolling in the areas
designated for landings. Solomon Islanders acted as guides and scouts
led by British resident administrators and Australian navy intelligence
personnel, who, as Coastwatchers, hid in the hills in the enemy rear
areas. From here they radioed information about Japanese troop, air,
and naval sightings and movements to Allied listening stations. With
the exception of two or three members from each patrol party who
remained behind to arrange for guides and to give homing signals to
Allied vessels on their approach, all patrols returned to their parent
units by 25 June 1943. For these individuals, the campaign was already
underway.

[Illustration: _The Central Solomons campaign was launched by the
raiders at Viru Harbor before the landings at Rendova and the Dragons
Peninsula. A burial detail renders honors to those Marines who were
killed in action. The Marines here are clothed in both the familiar
sage-green herringbone twill and camouflage utility uniforms which were
worn during the campaign by the raiders. The firing squad is armed with
Garand M-1 rifles._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 57581
]

The Solomon Islands were some of the least known and underdeveloped
areas in the world. John Miller, Jr., himself a former Marine, veteran
of Guadalcanal, and after the war an Army historian, considered it “one
of the worst possible places” to fight a war. All the islands had much
in common, he went on, and “much that is common is unpleasant.” The
islands were mountainous, jungle covered, pest-ridden, and possessed
a hot-wet tropical climate. There were no roads, major ports, or
developed facilities. New Georgia was all of this, and more.

[Illustration: _Allied landings were met by ground and air defense, as
seen in this photograph taken from the USS_ Algorab _(AKA 8) on D-Day,
30 June 1943. Japanese were bombing Rendova Harbor in the background
while the transport group moves to sea under “Condition Red.” During
this raid the flagship USS_ McCawley _(AP 10) was hit, but Allied air
cover kept most of the enemy aircraft away._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

The New Georgia campaign began for the 1st Marine Raider Regiment when
Admiral Turner received a request for support and/or rescue from the
resident coastwatcher at Segi Point, Donald G. Kennedy. The Japanese
were moving into his base area where the Allies planned to build an
auxiliary fighter strip. Responding to the request for help, Turner
loaded Lieutenant Colonel Michael S. Currin’s 4th Raider Battalion on
high speed destroyer transports (APDs) and sent it north to Segi Point.
Captain Malcolm N. McCarthy met the raiders in a dugout canoe to guide
the ships in. McCarthy felt certain that Company P’s commander, Captain
Anthony Walker, would have his men’s weapons at the ready, and “I kept
hollering, ‘Hold Your Fire!’”

[Illustration: LANDINGS IN NEW GEORGIA

21 June-5 July 1943]

Currin went ashore with part of his headquarters and Companies O and P,
followed by Army and Navy forces to begin the airstrip. After linking
up with Kennedy, Currin turned his attention to his initial goal, the
seizure of the protected anchorage at Viru Harbor. He had to accomplish
this prior to the arrival of the invasion force on 30 June, and on the
night of 27 June, he and his Marines set out by rubber boats across the
mouths of the Akuru and Choi rivers for Viru.

After an eight-mile paddle, the raiders arrived at Regi Village early
on 28 June. Led by native guides, Currin began the approach march to
Viru Harbor. Fighting a stubborn combination of terrain, weather, and
Japanese patrols, the raiders were short of their objective on 30 June.
Meanwhile, the landing force arrived on schedule and stood off the
beach after taking fire from Japanese coastal defense guns.

[Illustration: _The approach to Rendova Harbor as seen from the deck
of an LSD carrying Marines ashore. It sails through the narrow Renard
Entrance with Rendova Peak in the background and the Lever Brothers’
landing at the right just around the bend._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

The raiders launched their attack at 0900, 1 July, to seize Tetemara
and Tombe Villages. Captain Walker attacked Tombe with part of his
company, while the remainder attacked Tetemara with First Lieutenant
Raymond L. Luckel’s Company O. After six hours of fighting and a
Japanese counterattack, the objectives were captured. Sergeant Anthony
P. Coulis’ Company P machine gun squad finished mopping up and searched
for food and water. The 4th Raider Battalion lost 13 killed and 15
wounded in this action. The Japanese defenders withdrew, with an
estimated 61 dead and 100 wounded. Currin turned the beachhead over to
the Army occupation force and was taken back on board ship and returned
to Guadalcanal. The remainder of the 4th Battalion headquarters and
two companies, led by battalion executive officer Major James Clark,
carried out separate tasks in accordance with plans to secure Wickham
Anchorage at Vangunu Island to protect lines of communication from
the Russells and Guadalcanal for the New Georgia operation. On 30
June, Captain Earle O. Snell, Jr.’s Company N and Captain William L.
Flake’s Company Q supported an Army landing force by going ashore at
Oloana Bay, where it joined a scouting party and Coastwatchers already
there. Raider Irvin L. Cross later wrote that he and the other raiders
disembarked from his assault transport “in Higgins Boats during a
typhoon. In the dark it was impossible to see the landing craft from
the deck.” Despite a confused landing in poor conditions, by afternoon
the Marines and units of the Army 2d Battalion, 103d Infantry reached
the Kaeruka River and attacked the Japanese located there. This
position was taken and then defended. A member of Company Q, John
McCormick, recalled that the attack “was not very productive,” but that
a battle went on all day with the Japanese, who had gotten “quickly
organized” and fought back with their machine guns and mortars. On 2
July, the Japanese tried to land three barges with supplies, but were
met on the beach and shot up. The raiders lost 14 killed and 26 wounded
securing Vangunu. The next raider deployment was like those at Viru and
Vangunu, a supporting exercise to back the main XIV Corps effort to
take Munda Point. Soon after the Rendova landings, Colonel Liversedge’s
mission was changed from being the landing force reserve to being an
assault force designated the Northern Landing Group directed to attack
Japanese positions on New Georgia’s northwest coast at the Dragon’s
Peninsula.

Three of the 1st Raider Regiment’s four battalions had been sent
elsewhere. Liversedge’s landing group consisted of the Marine raider
regimental headquarters, the 1st Raider Battalion; the 3d Battalion,
145th Infantry; and the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry. Because the
operating area was too far from the main landing force for support,
fire support and supply came from the sea and air. Communications were
dependent upon radio until a land-line linkup could be made with the
rest of the occupation force to the south.

Liversedge was assigned several tasks. First he was to land and move
against the Japanese forces at Enogai Inlet and Bairoko Harbor. Then he
was to block the so-called Bairoko Trail and disrupt Japanese troop and
supply movements between Bairoko Harbor and Munda. The enemy, weather,
and terrain together conspired against this venture from the beginning
and the raiders found themselves in a protracted frontline fight rather
than a swift strike in the Japanese rear. One of Liversedge’s battalion
commanders, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel B. Griffith II, observed on
embarking at Guadalcanal that although they shot off no fireworks on
Independence Day, “we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that there
would be plenty of those later.”

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USA) 111SC324513

_Soldiers and Marines consolidate their positions and construct barbed
wire obstacles on the Dragons Peninsula after the attack on Bairoko.
Their apparent condition, mixture of clothing, and the ever-present
jungle provide eloquent testimony to the physical demands of the
campaign._]

On 5 July, the Northern Landing Group landed at Rice Anchorage east of
Enogai and Bairoko. A narrow beach, difficult landing conditions, and
concerns for an enemy naval attack caused the destroyer-transport force
to depart, taking the raiders’ long-range radio with it. The landing
from eight APDs and destroyers (DDs) was unopposed and met only by
porters and scouts (Corry’s Boys) under Australian Flight Officer John
A. Corrigan. Griffith described them as small men, “but their brown
bodies were wiry and their arm, leg and back muscles were powerful.
They wore gaudy cheap cotton lap-lap, or lavalavas.” These 150 New
Georgians were the Northern Landing Group’s supply transport in a
region without roads.

Undeterred by the situation, Liversedge moved out on jungle trails in
pouring rain to his first objectives, leaving two Army companies to
secure the rear. In Griffith’s words, they “alternately stumbled up one
side of a hill and slipped and slid down the other.” The 1st Raider
Battalion pushed on to reach the Giza Giza River by the night of 5 July
with the larger and heavier Army battalions following. Here Liversedge
split his force. The 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry was sent south to
block the Bairoko Trail and the remaining units went north towards the
Japanese on the Dragons Peninsula. On the night of 6 July, the naval
Battle of Kula Gulf erupted with the resultant loss of the cruiser
USS _Helena_ (CL 50). This isolated the Northern Landing Group from
even naval support. The villages of Maranusa I and Triri were occupied
and patrols were soon in contact with the enemy, members of the _6th
Special Naval Landing Force_, so-called Japanese “marines.”

On 9 July, the Enogai defenses were reached and, after an air strike,
Liversedge launched an immediate attack with Lieutenant Colonel
Griffith’s 1st Raider Battalion. Captain Thomas A. Mullahey’s Company
A was on the left, Captain John P. Salmon’s Company C in the center,
Captain Edwin B. Wheeler’s Company B on the right, with Company D under
Captain Clay A. Boyd in reserve. Employing machine guns and grenades,
the battalion advanced toward the Japanese position until halted at
nightfall. The Japanese were well dug-in and well armed with machine
guns and mortars, but their heavy-caliber coast defense artillery could
only be used seaward. Supported by 60mm mortars, the raiders resumed
the attack the morning of 10 July, and took Enogai Village. Richard
C. Ackerman, a Marine with Company C, remembered “we soon came to a
lagoon which stopped our forward motion. Our right flank, though, did
overrun the enemy’s warehouse and food storage area.” The Japanese lost
300 men at a cost of 47 Marines killed, another 74 wounded, and 4 men
missing. The battalion had fought for 30 hours without rations or water
resupply. Army troops carried up water and K-rations and candy bars
received in an air drop. The elimination of the Japanese coast defense
artillery at Enogai allowed American destroyers and torpedo boats to
operate unhampered in the Kula Gulf, where they disrupted Japanese
barge traffic.

Under Japanese air attacks, the 1st Marine Raider Regiment consolidated
its gains and blocking positions, while Colonel Liversedge studied the
Bairoko Harbor defenses. Communications, resupply, and fire support
were problem areas. The Japanese improved their own dispositions and
continued to bring in troops and supplies from Kolombangara by sea and
then moved them overland to Munda Point. The main Japanese line was
on a ridge in front of the Americans. The enemy fighting positions
were log and coral bunkers that made excellent use of terrain and
interlocking machine-gun fire supported by heavy mortars. On the
night of 12-13 July, the Navy intercepted a Japanese troop landing
at Kolombangara. Four days later, on 17 July, Liversedge pulled
the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry back to Triri Village for closer
mutual support, while other Army companies continued to hold the Rice
Anchorage area and communications routes.

Reinforced on 18 July by the 4th Raider Battalion, Liversedge planned
to attack Bairoko on 20 July 1943. The attack was launched on schedule
despite the failure of a requested airstrike to arrive. Liversedge sent
in Griffith’s battalion, followed by Currin’s battalion, to find an
undefended flank or a breakthrough point. Griffith committed Wheeler’s
Company B and Company C under First Lieutenant Frank A. Kemp. His other
companies had been used to bring these two up to strength. Currin’s
battalion fielded four companies, but was some 200 men understrength.
Companies B and C soon stalled on the Japanese defenses. Captain Walker
took Company P forward for support, while Snell’s Company N tried to
find an open flank along the shoreline to the north. One of Snell’s
men, Frank Korowitz, remembered feeling that he wanted to get up and
run when Japanese attacked by surprise at close range, but “I also felt
that I would rather be killed than have anyone know I was scared.”
Liversedge fed in his remaining units to cover the gaps that developed
between the two battalions and no longer had a reserve. Walker
recalled, “without some kind of fire support (naval gunfire or air)
these raiders could not penetrate the fortified enemy line.” McCormick,
with Company Q, wrote that the Japanese had plenty of time to prepare
and had “machine gun pits in the natural shelter provided by the
roots of banyan trees and cut fire lanes through the underbrush.” The
combination of machine guns, mortars, and snipers guaranteed “almost
instant death” to any Marine caught in these fields of fire.

At 1445, a Japanese mortar barrage was followed with a counterattack
in the 1st Battalion area. After this, another assault attempted by the
Marines of Company Q lead by Captain Lincoln N. Holdzkom bogged down
within sight of Bairoko Harbor. By now there was a loss of almost 250
Marines, a 30 percent casualty rate. The 1st Marine Raider Regiment had
46 killed and another 200 or so wounded, and about half the wounded
were litter cases. Liversedge made no further headway and withdrew that
night to Enogai. It required another 150 men to move the casualties
back and all units were in defensive positions by 1400, 21 July.

By then, the effects of the fighting and living conditions had taken
a toll in sickness and exhaustion of the Northern Landing Group.
Liversedge was ordered to hold what he had with available forces.
Resupply and casualty evacuation were by air and there was no further
reinforcement, except a 50-man detachment under Captain Joseph W.
Mehring, Jr., of the 11th Defense Battalion that provided needed 40mm
and .50-caliber antiaircraft guns at Rice Anchorage.

[Illustration: _1st Raider Regiment casualties from the attack on
Bairoko had to be treated in place or evacuated by aircraft. Some 200
casualties were carried from the field, then taken by rubber boat to
Consolidated PBY Catalinas. After this picture was taken a Japanese air
attack disrupted this effort and damaged one aircraft._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 152113
]

Bairoko Harbor was attacked by destroyers and torpedo boats, and bombed
by B-17 Flying Fortresses. On 2 August, XIV Corps informed Liversedge
that Munda Point was reached and his force should cut off retreating
Japanese near Zieta. On 9 August, the Northern Landing Group linked
up with elements of the 25th Infantry Division advancing from Munda
Point and assumed control of the 1st Marine Raider Regiment. Scattered
fighting continued around Bairoko until 24 August when it was occupied
by the 3d Battalion, 145th Infantry. The Japanese defenders, the
_Special Naval Landing Force_ men, had pulled out by sea. Occupying
Corrigan’s “Christian Rest and Recreation” camp of thatched lean-to’s,
the Marines totaled their casualties for this effort; regimental
headquarters had 1 killed and 8 wounded, 1st Raider Battalion lost
74 killed and 139 wounded, 4th Raider Battalion had 54 dead and 168
wounded; and all suffered from the unhealthy conditions of the
area. By 31 August 1943, the 1st Marine Raider Regiment was back on
Guadalcanal for reorganization scheduled in September, officially
noting the presence of “bunks, movies, beer, chow.”

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60483

_The dead had to wait until the wounded were taken care of and the
battlefield was secured to be buried. In some cases it was not until
after the Japanese had withdrawn or been solidly beaten before burial
details could recover the dead Marines._]



[Sidebar (page 4): Under The Southern Cross

Marine Troop List


    I Marine Amphibious Corps[B]
      Forward Echelon
      Medical Battalion
        Company A
        Company B
      Motor Transport Battalion
        Company A
      Signal Battalion
    1st Medical Battalion[B]
      Detachment
    1st Marine Raider Regiment[A]
      Headquarters Company
      1st Raider Battalion
        Headquarters Company
        Company A
        Company B
        Company C
        Company D
      4th Raider Battalion
        Headquarters Company
      Tank Platoon
    Marine Aircraft Group 25[C]
      Headquarters
    Marine Service Squadron 25
    Marine Transport Squadron 152
    Marine Transport Squadron 153
    Marine Transport Squadron 253
      Flight Detachment
    Marine Fighter Squadron 121[A]
    Marine Fighter Squadron 122[A]
    Marine Fighter Squadron 123[B]
    Marine Fighter Squadron 124[C]
    Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 132[A]
    Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 141[C]
    Marine Torpedo-Bomber Squadron 143[C]
    Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 144[A]
    Marine Fighter Squadron 214[C]
    Marine Fighter Squadron 215[C]
    Marine Fighter Squadron 221[C]
    Marine Fighter Squadron 222[B]
      Flight Detachment
    Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 232[B]
    Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 233[C]
    Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 234[C]
    Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 235[B]
      Flight Detachment
        Company N
        Company O
        Company P
        Company Q
    2d Marine Aircraft Wing[A]
      Forward Echelon
    2d Separate Wire Platoon[A]
    3d Special Weapons Battalion[B]
    4th Defense Battalion[B]
      Headquarters & Service Battery
      155mm Artillery Group
      90mm Antiaircraft Group
      Special Weapons Group
    9th Defense Battalion[A]
      Headquarters & Service Battery
      155mm Artillery Group
      90mm Antiaircraft Group
      Special Weapons Group
      Tank Platoon
    10th Defense Battalion[A]
      Tank Platoon
    11th Defense Battalion[A]
      Battery E
      Battery K
    Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 236[B]
    Marine Night Fighter Squadron 531[A]
      2d Platoon, Battery A
    4th Base Depot[B]

      [A] New Georgia only

      [B] Vella Lavella only

      [C] New Georgia and Vella Lavella
]



[Sidebar (page 6): Individual Combat Clothing and Equipment


[Illustration:

    Drawing by Kerr Eby, U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection
]

By 1943, the cotton sage-green herringbone twill utility uniform was
being issued to the troops in the field (although some camouflage
clothing was available) and to new Marines at the recruit depots. These
jackets and trousers were worn with field shoes, leggings, and the M1
steel helmet. Individual combat equipment was the distinctive Marine
Corps 1941 pattern that derived from earlier Army M1910 designs. Basic
components included the cartridge belt, belt suspenders, haversack,
and knapsack; supplemented by poncho, shelter half, entrenching tool,
gas mask, and canteens. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel B. Griffith II,
commanding the 1st Raider Battalion, recalled that officers and men
landed with a basic allowance of ammunition, a canteen of water, a
battle dressing, and individual first aid kit on the belt. In the
pack were two days K-Rations, one D-Bar (a highly enriched and very
hard chocolate bar), tobacco, a change of underwear, three pairs of
socks, a poncho, and a pair of tennis shoes. The pack roll was made
from a shelter half, blanket, and “one utility garment.” A 4th Raider
Battalion Marine noted that at Vangunu they “learned that one canteen
of water was not enough. We all had been issued a second canteen.”
]



_The Munda Drive and the Fighting Ninth_


Elements of four Marine defense battalions played an important part in
the Central Solomons campaign. Attached to the XIV Corps to support
of the attack on Munda Point was the 9th Defense Battalion, commanded
by Lieutenant Colonel William J. Scheyer. The battalion was organized
with an artillery group (Batteries A and B), a heavy antiaircraft
group (Batteries C through F), a light antiaircraft group (Batteries
G through I), and a headquarters and service battery. The 9th Defense
Battalion’s participation in the Guadalcanal campaign from December
1942 had provided it needed experience, as the island was typical of
conditions to be found in the Central Solomons. Some Marines from the
light antiaircraft group were withdrawn from gun crews to train with
the battalion’s tank platoon for tank-infantry operations. The greatest
challenge in preparing for the campaign was Lieutenant Colonel Archie
E. O’Neil’s conversion of his seacoast artillery into a field artillery
unit, at the same time absorbing 145 new men into the group. This was
accomplished in 22 days, a feat that Admiral Halsey complimented.

[Illustration: _This picture gives a clear view of the beach congestion
that plagued the landing of the artillery group with its 155mm guns. At
right is a .50-caliber antiaircraft gun of the Special Weapons Group._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

One of the major equipment changes for the campaign was the acquisition
of 155mm guns as replacements for the older M1918 French Grande
Puissance Filloux (GPF) guns. The battalion exchanged 90mm guns with
the Army 70th Coast Artillery Battalion, giving the antiaircraft group
new guns. High-speed and standard dual-mounts for 20mm guns were also
obtained. These were adapted by the 9th from 37mm gun mounts, giving
the light antiaircraft group greatly increased mobility by replacing
the stationary naval single-mounts. The 9th Defense Battalion obtained
additional .30-caliber heavy, water-cooled machine guns, and trained
the battalion band to employ them with Headquarters and Service
Battery. The battalion acquired three Landing Vehicle Tracked Alligator
amphibious tractors for the operation, and then was augmented by a
whole amphibious tractor platoon of nine vehicles from the 3d Marine
Division.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection.

_The antiaircraft group of the 9th Defense Battalion moves ashore at
Rendova. Here a TD9 tractor pulls a 90mm gun from an LST. The TD9
tractor would soon prove too light to move through the muddy terrain
beyond the beach._]

On 27 June 1943, the battalion consisted of a total of 1,459 officers
and men, reinforced with additional personnel from the 3d Marine
Division and I Marine Amphibious Corps. Most of these Marines had been
on Guadalcanal for seven months. At one time or another, 40 percent of
them had malaria and the debilitating effects of the tropics had been
felt by the entire unit. But the 9th was a well-trained, experienced
unit, outfitted with the best equipment then available to Marine
defense battalions. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Scheyer, “the
prospect of closing with the enemy was all that was needed to supply
morale.”

[Illustration: _The first Japanese aircraft shot down from the beach
was credited to this gun crew on its first day ashore. From the left
are 1stLt William A. Buckingham, PFC Francis W. O’Brien, Cpl Paul V.
Duhamel, and PFC Nemo Hancock, Jr., of the 9th Defense Battalion._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 56812
]

On 29 June, the 9th Defense Battalion was attached to XIV Corps for
the duration of the New Georgia operation. The battalion was given the
mission assisting in the capture, occupation, and defense of Rendova
Island, by landing on the beaches south of Renard Channel entrance.
Here it was to move immediately into position to provide antiaircraft
defense. A third mission was to fire 155mm guns on the enemy
installations, bivouac areas, and the airfield at Munda. As a fourth
task, the tank platoon would support the attack on Munda Airfield.
Fifth, the battalion would be prepared to repel attack by hostile
surface vessels. When the Japanese forces on New Georgia Island were
overrun, the battalion would then move as a whole or in part to Munda
to defend the field when Allied air units moved in and began operating.
All these assigned tasks reflected the battalion’s varied capabilities.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_A 40mm gun and crew look skyward for Japanese aircraft as the XIV
Corps landing continues. Landing Craft Infantry (LCIs) are run up on
the beach in the background, as working parties unload them by hand._]

Lieutenant Colonel Scheyer said on leaving Guadalcanal that the
Japanese “have a mistaken notion that they must die for their Emperor
and our job is to help them do that just as fast as we possibly can.”
At 1600 on 29 June, the 9th’s first echelon, 28 officers and 641
enlisted Marines, combat loaded on board the USS _Libra_ (AK-53) and
USS _Algorab_ (AK-25), the vessels assigned to transport the battalion,
and sailed from Guadalcanal. At Munda, a Japanese defender observed
that a “blue signal flare from Rendova Point went up. I saw four enemy
warships ... this morning, rain clouds hovered over us. At Rendova,
four cruisers, three destroyers, eight transports and countless numbers
of boats appeared.”

At 0635 the morning of 30 June, the first units of the XIV Corps’
assault wave began landing on Kokorana Island and East Beach of
Rendova. They were met by Coastwatcher Flight Lieutenant D. C. Horton
and guides from the amphibious reconnaissance patrols.

Both on Kokorana and on Rendova, lead elements of the 9th found
themselves landing ahead of the assault forces, meeting only light
resistance. The battalion band soon took out an enemy machine gun
position. Major Robert C. Hiatt’s reconnaissance party from the
artillery group killed another enemy soldier, who was said to have been
stripped of souvenirs before hitting the ground. The defenders withdrew
inland to harass the Americans from the hills and swamps.

Throughout the day, enemy air attacks were turned back by friendly
fighters. Allied fighters over the area on 30 June reportedly
destroyed over 100 enemy aircraft. One attack by Japanese float planes
got through to strike at the naval task force and damaged Admiral
Turner’s flagship, USS _McCawley_ (AP 10), so heavily that it had to
be sunk that night by a PT boat. At 1600, a lone Mitsubishi A6M Zeke
fighter strafed the beach without causing any damage and was driven
off by defense battalion machine gun fire, without causing damage.
Both the _Algorab_ and _Libra_ were unloaded with the assistance of
the 24th Naval Construction Battalion. The 24th, and other Seabee
units, supported the 9th in unloading cargo and moving equipment and
contributed materially to the general success of the battalion on those
first days and the battalion was “in their debt.” On the first day of
landing, Battery E of the Antiaircraft Group set up on Kokorana and was
prepared to fire by 1645; all Special Weapons Group light antiaircraft
guns landed and were emplaced along the coast to protect the XIV
Corps’ beachhead; sites were located for the 155mm and the remaining
90mm batteries. Battery demolition crews ventured near and into enemy
territory to blast out fields of fire for the gun positions.

Weather and terrain made unloading and emplacement extremely difficult
for XIV Corps, the 43d Infantry Division, and the 9th Defense
Battalion. Torrential rains began on 30 June and continued almost
without cessation, rendering what passed for roads impassable and
causing great congestion on the beaches as men and supplies came
ashore. Areas believed suitable for occupation proved to be swampy.
Steel matting and corduroy roads constructed with coconut logs were
utilized, but even these were ineffective. Tanks, guns, and vehicles
of all types mired down in the incredible mud and only the sturdiest
tractors or manpower extricated them. The congestion of supplies on
the beachhead rendered them and the troops moving themselves and the
supplies inland vulnerable to enemy air attack.

In many cases, 9th Defense Battalion equipment had to be dismantled and
carried to assigned areas. The 9th’s motor transport section performed
as best it could with the resources available and until the majority
of its vehicles burned out from the strain of operating in the Rendova
muck. Their task was made easier by the amphibious tractors, which
were the only sure means of transportation and these had troubles of
their own as they threw off their tracks on uneven terrain. “Frances,”
“Tootsie,” and “Gladys” were three amphibious tractors in the beach
area manned by nine 3d Division Marines who operated continuously
keeping supplies moving from position to position. All tractors were
damaged eventually in the Japanese air attacks that followed.

The 9th Defense Battalion’s second echelon arrived on LSTs (Landing
Ships Tank) 395 and 354 and disembarked at Rendova on 1 July as Allied
fighter cover continued to turn back enemy air attacks. Joseph J. Pratl
with Battery A, which came in on LST 354, wrote the ship was “big and
slow moving, loaded with ammunition of every description.... Unloading
was done quickly, 155mm guns and their tractors soon made mud and made
a slime which made walking around difficult to say the least.” By the
end of the day, Captain Henry H. Reichner’s Battery A was in firing
position. A third battalion echelon arrived in LSTs 342 and 398 and
disembarked on 2 July. That morning Captain Walter C. Well’s Battery B
was emplaced and Battery A commenced shelling enemy positions in the
Munda area. On 3 July, both batteries of “Long Toms” fired for effect
on the Munda airfield and enemy artillery positions on Baanga Island.
At Munda; a defender wrote, “They must be firing like the dickens.
Sometimes they all come at once. I don’t exactly appreciate this
shelling.”

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60590

_Supplies are landed by XIV Corps for ComAir New Georgia. The terrain
behind the beach did not allow for rapid movement and for the dispersal
of supplies which soon piled up at an unmanageable rate and became
extremely vulnerable to Japanese attack._]

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_Sailors and soldiers make a corduroy road from coconut logs across an
exceptionally muddy spot._]

[Illustration: _A 155mm Long Tom is dragged through the mud of Rendova
en route to a new position from which it could punish Japanese
positions and at the same time defend against Japanese counterattacks._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

The combat experience of the 9th paid dividends, especially during the
first week ashore. The Marines knew how to dig in for air attacks and
this saved lives. At 1335, 2 July, 18 Mitsubishi G4M Betty bombers
and Zeke fighter escorts entered the area from the southwest and
pattern-bombed the beachhead, causing considerable damage and many
casualties. Zero fighters flew over the beach area at tree-top level,
strafing and bombing the beach and landing craft. Gasoline storage
tanks and an explosives dump were hit and several fires were started
in the area. Battery A’s Pratl recounted, “we saw the bombers, we
assumed them to be American B-25s. We hit foxholes and the earth shook
like a rubber band as three bombs fell” near his battery.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60656

_Capt Henry H. Reichner’s Battery A loads its Long Toms on an LCT
to move to Piru Plantation from Tambusolo Island. These moves were
staggered to provide continuous artillery support during this phase and
were carried out with speed and efficiency._]

On board a beached landing ship, tank, Francis E. Chadwick, of Battery
B, was hauling ammunition for a Navy 40mm antiaircraft gun when the
“LST was showered in water. You could feel the heat from the bombs. The
noise was deafening.” Army and Navy units suffered the most from lack
of preparation and the area around the landing beach became known as
“Suicide Point.”

[Illustration: _The Japanese struck back hard at the New Georgia
invasion force with bombers and fighters. Allied combat air patrols
shot down many of the enemy, but some got through to damage Marine
positions on Rendova. This area became known as “Suicide Point” after
fuel and explosives dumps were hit during the 2 July 1943 raid._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

Four 9th Defense Battalion men were killed, one was missing, and 22
were wounded as a result of the raid. Damage to the battalion included
two 155mm guns hit, two 40mm guns hit, three amphibious tractors hit,
one TD18 tractor demolished, and an unknown amount of supplies and
personal gear destroyed. One bomb landed between the trail legs of one
155mm gun in Battery A, but failed to detonate. This put the gun out
of action until the bomb was excavated, pulled clear, and detonated.
That day, the battalion bomb disposal teams successfully removed or
destroyed a total of 9 bombs and 65 unexploded projectiles of 105mm or
larger (Over 9,000 pieces of smaller enemy or damaged friendly ordnance
were recovered by the end of the campaign by these teams). Some light
antiaircraft guns fired at the raiding planes, but downed none. The
damage caused by this attack was due in part to the lack of working
surveillance radar, and friendly fighter cover had been withdrawn
because of weather. The battalion’s SCR270 and 516 radars had not yet
been installed and the E Battery SCR268 radar had been fueled with
diesel from a drum marked “gasoline,” putting it out of action at the
time of the attack.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60624

_Behind a revetment of sandbags and coconut logs, this 9th Defense
Battalion crew manning a 90mm antiaircraft gun keeps vigilant watch
against Japanese air attacks on positions at the beach at Rendova._]

Earning special credit during this period were the battalion’s attached
Navy corpsmen and doctors, who performed their work in the midst of
enemy raids and under the most trying conditions. Besides caring for
the 9th’s casualties at the battalion aid station set up on the exposed
East Beach of Rendova, battalion surgeon Lieutenant Commander Miles C.
Krepelas treated many Navy wounded, and Army troops returning from New
Georgia who could not locate their own medical detachments.

[Illustration: _Casualties were treated at the 9th Defense Battalion
and 43d Infantry Division medical clearing stations. More than 200
Americans were killed or injured during the 2 July raid._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 56829
]

Battalion S-4 Major Albert F. Lucas was faced with the extremely
difficult task of supplying the widely dispersed elements of the
battalion. Captain Lynn D. Ervin, Battery G commander, remembered that
after he landed, working parties from headquarters brought around
water and rations to the dispersed firing batteries until they had
established their own field kitchens. The preparation and delivery
of food required a major effort throughout the campaign because the
battalion elements were widely spread out in the target area and
the battalion had to feed all other units which did not have their
own messing facilities. Hot meals were provided once a day and the
artillery group’s pastry cook raised morale by providing doughnuts and
other baked goods during some of the more difficult periods.

At this same time, XIV Corps began its Munda drive by moving from
Rendova to New Georgia, supported by the Army 136th Field Artillery
Battalion and the 9th Defense Battalion. Zanana Beach had been selected
for the 43d Infantry Division’s landing. The division order stated
that the 43d, less the 103d Regimental Combat Team, would “land on New
Georgia Island, capture or destroy all enemy encountered, and secure
the Munda Airfield.” On 3 July, the 172d Infantry moved by landing
craft to New Georgia, followed the next day by the 169th Infantry. The
Munda drive had begun.

The 9th’s communications and radar personnel carried on vital
installation work and respliced telephone lines as soon as they were
damaged in the air raids. The air control and reporting system of the
defense battalion and Commander Aircraft New Georgia was installed on
4 July when Condition Red was sounded again. At 1430, the Japanese
attempted a repetition of the 2 July raid as 16 Betty bombers and
their fighter escort broke through the Allied combat air patrol
overhead and penetrated the area on the same course followed before.
Zeke fighters roared in at tree-top level strafing defenses. As the
enemy planes came in, several light antiaircraft guns opened fire and
a few seconds later Captain Tracy’s E Battery on Kokorana Island began
firing. Tracy recalled “bursts were right on target, requiring no
correction ... the flight entered a large cloud. Pieces of planes were
noted falling out of the cloud.” This fire caught the enemy by surprise
and of the 16 bombers only four got their bombs away. Battery E had
expended 88 rounds of ammunition and a world’s record was established.
Twelve bombers and a fighter were destroyed by the 9th’s fire, the
bombers and the Zeke chalked up to Battery E and Special Weapons Group
respectively. That day cheers were heard all over Rendova “like a Babe
Ruth homer in Yankee Stadium.” Credit was given the operators of the
range section, though Frank LaMountain said if he had not kept the
generator going this would not have been the case. The battalion had
one officer killed and three enlisted Marines wounded; a heavy machine
gun and the remote control system of one 40mm gun were destroyed.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60616

_While Marine antiaircraft artillery dealt with air raids, 155mm
Long Toms were fired at targets some eight miles or more away
round-the-clock, in all weather, taking a toll of the defenders._]

On 5 July, a detachment of 52 men with four 40mm guns and four
.50-caliber machine guns under the command of First Lieutenant John R.
Wismer moved to Zanana Beach on New Georgia to provide antiaircraft and
beach defense protection for the 43d Infantry Division which had landed
in that area.

[Illustration: _A fire direction center processed target information
from observation posts and air spotters, which group commander LtCol
Archie E. O’Neil and executive officer Maj Robert C. Hiatt translated
into firing data on Rendova._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60596
]

Major naval surface actions occurred on 12 July as the U.S. Navy
intercepted Japanese destroyers and cruisers attempting to resupply
forces on Vila and Munda. The ships’ gunfire, sounding like massive
thunder and looking like a lightning storm, permitting little sound
sleep, was observed from Rendova. The next day, a 90mm battery, three
searchlights, and a light antiaircraft detachment arrived from the
11th Defense Battalion. The 90mm battery was staged on Kokorana until
the 9th Defense Battalion displaced to New Georgia, then it went into
firing positions. Light antiaircraft guns were positioned on both
Kokorana and Rendova. Marines from the 11th Defense Battalion assisted
the 9th in manning the radars and the 11th’s sound locator supported
Battery E.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_The Northern Landing Group, built around the 1st Marine Raider
Regiment, landed at Rice Anchorage on 5 July and proceeded
cross-country to take Enogai on Dragons Peninsula. The Marine third
from the left hefts a Boys rifle used by the raiders as an antitank
weapon._]

[Illustration: _Camouflaged Japanese 140mm naval guns with their
ammunition intact were found and put out of action at Enogai by the
raiders’ landward attack._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 127G59009A
]

At 0800, 13 July, U.S. Army infantry units landed at Laiana Beach,
about 2½ miles east of Munda airfield, and continued the drive towards
Munda Point. A detachment of 22 men with one 40mm gun, one twin 20mm
gun, and two .50-caliber machine guns from the 9th Defense Battalion
under First Lieutenant Colin J. Reeves, went to Laiana Beach on New
Georgia to defend the landing site.

[Illustration: APPROACH TO BAIROKO

5-20 JULY 1943]

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_With Wismer’s detachment were Cpl Maier J. Rothschild, at left, and
Pvt John Wantuck, at right. Both earned the Navy Cross during the
fighting at Zanana in defense of the beachhead. Wantuck died there._]

Captain Robert W. Blake’s platoon of light tanks now played an
important part in the assault and capture of Munda Airfield. The
airfield was defended by various aviation personnel, antiaircraft
units, and the 229th Infantry Regiment. During the next five days,
9th Defense Battalion tanks spearheaded the advance, knocking out
enemy log bunkers, pillboxes, and other strong points. On a number of
occasions during the assault on the enemy’s final defense positions
north of Ilanana, the tank platoon operated in the densely wooded and
irregular terrain, under conditions believed highly unsuitable for tank
employment. For the first time, the Japanese attacked the tanks with
magnetic mines and Molotov cocktails, bottles of gasoline with lit
wicks. On the morning of 15 July, the tanks broke through the enemy’s
strong positions after Army infantry had repeatedly been thrown back.
The XIV Corps attack on Munda was stalled by both the dogged resistance
of the defenders and the rugged terrain.

The “Murderers Row” of 155mm guns continued shelling the Munda
Airfield, Baanga Island, and other outlying islands throughout this
phase. The primary targets were antiaircraft and field artillery
positions, and ammunition dumps. Directed by both ground and air
observers, this firing proved very effective. “The artillery shelling’s
accuracy has become a real thing. We can never tell when we are to
die,” wrote a Munda defender. On 15 July, landing craft carried Battery
A to Tambusolo Island where it was assigned the mission of covering the
western approach to Blanche Channel with 155s against the incursion of
still dangerous Japanese ships. On the night of 17 July at Zanana, 9th
Defense Battalion Marines were involved in some memorable fighting.
A few days earlier, Lieutenant Wismer led a patrol which killed four
members of an enemy patrol and captured a fifth, from whom they learned
that a Japanese force of 150 men was in the vicinity. A rear command
post of the 43d Infantry Division with approximately 125 troops, nearly
all specialists commanded by a legal officer, was in the beachhead
area. The Marines under Wismer deployed for ground defense and Private
John Wantuck and Corporal Maier J. Rothschild manned two salvaged Army
.30-caliber light machine guns covering trails leading to the perimeter
of the Zanana area. Colonel Satoshi Tomonari’s _13th Infantry Regiment_
attacked with several groups during the night, forcing Lieutenant
Wismer’s defenders back to their gun pits, while Wantuck and Rothschild
remained forward of the lines engaging the Japanese with machine-gun
fire on each assault. The Marines were attacked by a regiment that had
“the determination of a suicide squad and under the command of the
Regimental Commander they are determined to fight to the last man.”

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60625

_Other defense battalion Marines skillfully employed their 90mm gun
batteries and their radar-operated fire control systems to keep enemy
aircraft high and away from their ground targets. Gun positions were
built above the water table as seen here._]

The following morning, Wantuck was found dead from gunshot and sword
wounds. Rothschild was wounded in a hand-to-hand encounter with an
enemy officer, whom he killed. Wantuck and Rothschild killed 18,
wounded 12 to 15 others, and put a 90mm mortar crew out of action. The
senior Army officer present, Major Charles C. Cox, credited these two
Marines and timely artillery fire with saving the division rear and
beachhead area. Rothschild and Wantuck each received a Navy Cross for
their action. In all, Wismer’s detachment had repulsed four different
columns, killing 18, wounding others, and capturing a prisoner. Over
100 Japanese bodies were found later on the field by Army units.

Pharmacist’s Mate First Class Francis G. Peters was with the Zanana
detachment. While with the unit, he performed as a one-man clearing
station for evacuating the wounded, mainly Army personnel, who were
taken from the beach by boat. He remembered the attack of 17 July
because the Japanese “penetrated as close as 25 yards and I could see
them shooting at our men on the AA guns.” After the attack, his work
really began, tending to the wounded, including a couple of Japanese
soldiers.

While the fighting for New Georgia was ongoing, there were several
changes in the command structure of the campaign. Major General Oscar
W. Griswold relieved General Hester as commander of XIV Corps, and Rear
Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson relieved Admiral Turner as commander of
Task Force 31. The buildup of forces on New Georgia continued with the
arrival of elements of Major General J. Lawton Collins’ 25th Infantry
Division on 21 July and the arrival the next day of the remainder of
the 37th Infantry Division. What one division failed to accomplish
would now be attempted by two, the 43d and the 37th.

[Illustration: _To keep the pressure on Munda and to prevent Japanese
reinforcement from Bairoko, plans were made for the Northern Landing
Group to attack on 20 July 1943. The commanders involved review the
plan: left to right, Maj Charles L. Banks, LtCol Samuel B. Griffith II,
LtCol Michael S. Currin, LtCol George G. Freer, and LtCol Delbert E.
Shultz, the last two both U.S. Army._

    U.S. Army Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

After their initial daytime air losses, the Japanese relied on air
attacks at night with only infrequent daylight bombings. One was
mounted against the Rendova area on 20 July by 6 planes, one on 1
August by another 6 planes, and another on 7 August by a formation
of 15 aircraft. Nightly harassing raids were made over the area by
different planes and pilots all dubbed “Washing Machine Charlie.”
Several larger flights were turned back by 90mm fire. Marines of
Battery F, the searchlight battery, remained at their posts despite
Japanese strafing, and radar men at their exposed, above ground posts
remained at their stations throughout the raids, also. At dawn, after
one all-night raid, a Battery C Marine was at the fuze pot stark naked,
“he hadn’t had time to dress.” A total of 26 enemy planes were downed
by battalion antiaircraft fire over Rendova.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_The 9th Defense Battalion’s 90mm Group had four gun batteries, each
with its own range-finder, computer, and radar. This weapons system
continued in use through the war and into the 1950s. Note the “kill”
flags stencilled on the barrel._]

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_The 9th Defense Battalion’s tank platoon lead by Capt Robert W. Blake
supported the infantry attack. This vehicle is shown knocked out on top
of a position at the Laiana water point. The Japanese bunker is all but
indistinguishable from the debris that covered it._]

[Illustration: _A tank crewman examines the damage to his vehicle which
put it out of commission. The Japanese employed a mix of antitank
weapons and individual close-in tactics to counter the light tanks.
Because of the loss of 9th Battalion tanks in the drive on Munda, tanks
of the 10th and 11th Defense Battalions’ armored platoons were fed in
as replacements._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

On 26 July 1943, the 9th’s tanks, reinforced by six others from the
10th Defense Battalion, led the assault on enemy positions near
Lambetti Plantation. Tank operations were conducted over difficult
terrain consisting of steep slopes, heavy underbrush, and closely
spaced trees. The Japanese were in a strongly fortified defensive
position, which consisted of a number of heavy bunkers and pillboxes
in a clearing. In this action, which lasted approximately five hours,
one of the tanks was disabled by a magnetic mine, and two men were
killed and four wounded. A second assault on this position on 28 July
by a battalion of infantry and four Marine tanks, was successful.
Approximately 40 heavily fortified bunkers and pillboxes were destroyed
and a large number of Japanese killed or wounded by tank fire.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60096

_Another defense battalion detachment went to Laiana, where this
emplaced 40mm gun of 1stLt Colin J. Reeves’ battery merges with the
dense jungle growth backdrop._]

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 57564

_The high ground at Munda airfield fell on 5 August 1943. This picture
is taken at the site of the former mission on Kokengolo Hill looking
towards Biblio Hill to the north._]

On 1 August, a Japanese air raid hit the torpedo boat mooring basin
at Rendova. Nearby on Tombusolo was Edwin Jakubowski with 9th Defense
Battalion Special Weapons, firing at the attacking aircraft. “A PT
Boat was strafed and blew up next to my little island. Plywood flying
all over me and one of its torpedoes went by,” he recalled. Captain
Theron A. Smith, commanding Battery F, had just inspected his Number
3 Searchlight Section when the attack occurred and later wrote “some
Sunday, alerts and [Condition] Reds all last night and most of the day.
Attacked by two dive bombers and Zeros (estimated 50) about 1600. Two
PTs destroyed, another sunk and beyond salvage.” In a footnote to the
campaign, Lieutenant (jg) John F. Kennedy’s PT 109 was rammed and sunk
early the next morning while operating from the Rendova base.

[Illustration: _Wreckage and debris were soon pushed aside in the rapid
progress to open the field for American use. The captured airfield
included aircraft, in this case a Zero fighter in a coconut and coral
enclosure, that could not take off after the American landing._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

Field artillery firing missions against the New Georgia area continued
to be conducted by Battery B until 3 August. The tank platoon of the
10th Defense Battalion, reinforced by five tanks from the 11th Defense
Battalion and the surviving tank of the 9th Defense Battalion, led the
assault on Kokengolo and Biblio Hills on 4 and 5 August. After two
days of heavy fighting, they routed the defending forces. The Marine
tanks then cleared the way to the principal objective of the entire
New Georgia campaign, the Munda airfield, which was captured and
occupied by XIV Corps Army troops on 5 August 1943. Regiments of the
25th Infantry Division pursued the Japanese as they withdrew north
from Munda Point. On the night of 6 August a naval battle was fought in
Vella Gulf, where Japanese destroyers and barges bringing in supplies
and reinforcements were turned back.

[Illustration: DRIVE TOWARDS MUNDA POINT

2-14 July 1943]

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60460

_The engineering effort pushed forward and built upon the Japanese
construction that remained. The work was completed within 10 days after
the airfield was captured._]

The battle for Munda airfield over, the Zanana Beach and Laiana Beach
detachments moved on 6 August to participate in the Munda defenses.
The detachments destroyed 12 enemy planes while at these locations. A
day later, the 9th Defense Battalion began moving to the Munda area.
The moves were so organized that there was no more than a quarter of
the battalion’s weapons out of action at any one time. The battalion
was transported largely by various types of landing craft, which made
the displacement a slow, laborious process. Captain Well’s Battery B
of the 155mm Group moved to Kindu Point on New Georgia on 8 August and
was assigned the mission with its large guns of guarding the western
approaches to Blanche Channel. On landing, Battery B and an Army
antitank platoon cleared the area of remaining Japanese stragglers.

At Munda Airfield, immediately after the area was cleared of Japanese,
construction units moved in to repair and enlarge the “emergency”
field built by the enemy. By the evening of 13 August, this work had
progressed sufficiently to permit four Army Curtiss P-40 Warhawks to
make an unscheduled landing and to “christen” the field with a brief
fly-over. This was soon followed by the arrival of Marine air units,
including VMF-123 and -124. Other Marine squadrons soon arrived,
including the VMF-214 “Black Sheep” of Major Gregory Boyington, who
became a grudging admirer of the 9th’s antiaircraft marksmanship and a
source of entertainment with his radio transmissions while flying over
Munda.

[Illustration: _Seabees clear a Japanese tunnel at the base of
Kokengolo Hill for use in the face of the still present Japanese
menace. This threat made the discomfort of the cave, filled with refuse
and corpses, seem a small price to pay for the security of overhead
cover from artillery and air attack._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

Instead of attacking the main Japanese force on Kolombangara at Vila,
the American force isolated the enemy by landings on nearby Vella
Lavella on 15 August. Admiral Halsey did not want another slugging
match like Munda. A landing force was built around the uncommitted Army
35th Regimental Combat Team, commanded by the 25th Infantry Division’s
assistant commander, Brigadier General Robert B. McLure, and supported
by the Marine 4th Defense Battalion. The Japanese resisted in the air
and sea, but enemy ground forces were too busy withdrawing to put up
a determined resistance. The 4th Defense Battalion, led by Lieutenant
Colonel Harold S. Fassett, defended the beachhead against 121 attacks
and downed 42 Japanese planes. The Allied occupation of these positions
and pressure from Arundel and New Georgia put Vila on Kolombangara in
a precarious position. In many ways, this was a prelude to the Marine
Bougainville campaign as it brought I Marine Amphibious Corps and new
units not involved in the fighting into the New Georgia area. American
fighter cover came from the Munda and Segi Airfields.

[Illustration: CAPTURE OF MUNDA POINT

22 July-4 August 1943]

[Illustration: _Commander Aircraft New Georgia, BGen Francis P.
Mulcahy, expanded airfield operations on Munda with the construction
of more secure shelters than those the Japanese left behind. A heavily
sandbagged sickbay is on the left and the personnel office is in the
center. The frame of a prefabricated Quonset hut is being assembled to
the right rear._]

[Illustration: _The first fighter plane to land on Munda was a VMF-215
Corsair flown by Maj Robert G. Owens, Jr., on 14 August 1943. Flight
operations began immediately to cover the Vella Lavella landings._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60270
]

By 15 August, the 9th Defense Battalion was set up and emplaced
in new dispersed positions. Three days later, another major naval
surface action occurred off Vella Lavella as the U.S. Navy combatants
intercepted destroyers and barges attempting to evacuate Japanese
troops. From 16 through 19 August, Japanese artillery on Baanga Island
shelled Munda Airfield and Kindu Point causing several casualties
and some minor damage. Friendly aircraft and artillery operated
against these elusive cannon and finally silenced them. The battalion
suffered no casualties from this shelling, though one gun crew’s tent
was demolished by a direct hit and there were several hits on other
positions. The 9th’s antiaircraft guns were now fully placed to protect
the airfield. Enemy air attacks on the Munda area, carried out at
night or in the early morning, continued throughout the rest of the
month. Captain Ervin’s three Battery G 40mm positions seaward of the
airfield were straddled by a string of Japanese bombs that managed to
just miss everyone.

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_The Munda drive moved into a final phase with attacks on 4 and 5
August 1943, again using Marine tanks in the lead. Tank commander Capt
Robert W. Blake examines some of the improvised antitank weapons faced
by his unit--a Molotov cocktail and a magnetic mine._]

The landing and occupation of Arundel Island, on 27 August, further
tightened the noose around Kolombangara. Army troops were supported
by Captain Blake and tanks from the 9th, 10th, and 11th Defense
Battalions. Major General Collins, commanding the 25th Infantry
Division carrying out this assignment, commended the Marines “for the
whole-hearted cooperation and assistance rendered this division” during
the operations against the Japanese in the Arundel Island campaign.
They performed all assigned tasks “in a splendid manner in support of
the 27th Infantry, in its action....”

[Illustration: THE CLEAN-UP

5-27 August 1943]

[Illustration: _An essential element in the defensive air war was the
use of radar by the Americans for surveillance, target acquisition,
and ground-controlled intercepts. This is one of the 9th Defense
Battalion’s SCR268s installed on New Georgia._]

Captain Reichner’s Battery A moved to Piru Plantation on 29 August and
two days later began shelling the Vila area of Kolombangara. The move
was made by landing craft and foot. Recalled Captain William T. Box,
with the artillery group’s advance party, “we hiked up from Munda using
a native guide. I remember we hiked through jungle most of the way. I
remember I was scared. I remember I was glad to see that open area with
the supply parachutes” left by the Army. Soon afterwards, Battery B
moved to Piru and on 2 September participated in the shelling of Vila.
A Japanese defender there with the _8th Combined Special Naval Landing
Force_ wrote in his diary, with “the situation as it is, one just can’t
help but distrust the operational plans of the Imperial Headquarters.”

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_Close-in air defense around the airfield was accomplished by
regrouping defense battalion assets from Rendova, Laiana, and Zanana.
This “Twin-Twenty” is at Munda, and is on one of several types of
mobile mounts at New Georgia._]

[Illustration: _Other Japanese defenses included this 25mm automatic
dual-purpose twin-barrelled gun in position on the airfield approaches.
These proved to be deadly against both American air and ground forces._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 69975
]

The artillery group used the services of spotter aircraft, but because
of enemy gunfire, switched from the light observation planes to Grumman
TBFs because their armor plating gave the pilots greater protection.
First Lieutenant Donald V. Sandager and Sergeant Herschel J. Cooper
flew these missions over Kolombangara. “We both volunteered to a
request from Major Hiatt. When we reported to Munda Airfield we had
no parachutes and were told each flier had to have his own,” recalled
Sandager. “The pilots were inexperienced and flew up from Guadalcanal
each morning and we had to direct them to find the battery and
Kolombangara. Radio communication with the battery was bad.” Admiral
Halsey noted the artillery group and Lieutenant Colonel O’Neil’s
ability to “utilize air spotting and the accuracy of their fire which
stood out above other more experienced groups.”

[Illustration: _Dead at his post, this Japanese soldier lies by a
smashed 37mm antitank gun near the airfield. As the tanks broke
through, the infantry followed and the fighting continued until the
positions were overrun or buried in the rubble._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

The peak of enemy air activity over Munda Airfield occurred the night
of 14-15 September when enemy planes kept gun crews at battle stations
all night. The 90mm group expended 3,378 rounds, downing one plane
and causing most of the enemy planes to jettison their bombs over the
jungle or the sea. At Vila, a Japanese commander reported, “it had
become very difficult to fire the antiaircraft guns as the enemy places
their artillery upon our position immediately after we commence firing
upon the aircraft.” At Piru, Japanese counterbattery fire hit the
artillery group throughout September and the first two days of October.
A number of the enemy artillery projectiles failed to detonate and
there were no casualties from the shelling.

On 15 September, General Sasaki was ordered to evacuate his remaining
12,400 men from Kolombangara. The next month on 3 October, while flying
his assigned air spotter missions, Lieutenant Sandager reported Vila
evacuated; the Japanese had pulled out. Lieutenant Colonel Scheyer was
pleased to state that for the “first time in this war the enemy had
been driven from his base by bombing and artillery fire.” He concluded
that at Kiska it was bombing and ship’s gunfire, at Kolombangara it was
naval gunfire, bombing, and artillery fire that turned the tide. The
final action of the campaign was a sea battle on 6-7 October when U.S.
Navy destroyers intercepted Japanese evacuation ships during the Battle
of Vella Lavella.

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 58411

_This 1 August 1943 bombing attack struck Marine positions on Rendova,
only wounding one Marine, but destroying a height finder with flying
coral._]

The Japanese air effort slackened considerably in October, and came
to an abrupt halt in November 1943. While at Munda Airfield, the 9th
Defense Battalion accounted for eight more enemy planes. Numerous
alerts, conditions red, and general quarters stand-tos that began an
hour before dawn and an hour after sunset, had occurred daily for all
gun crews. In early November, Battery A moved to Nusalavata Island and
Battery B to Roviana Island where the 155mm guns covered Munda Bar
and the eastern approach to Blanche Channel respectively. Lieutenant
Colonel Scheyer remained in command of the 9th until 3 November, when
he was assigned to I Marine Amphibious Corps and the command was turned
over to Lieutenant Colonel Archie E. O’Neil.

On 22 November, the 9th Defense Battalion was attached to VI Corps
Island Command for occupation duties. On 31 December, the battalion,
with the exception of one radar crew and two searchlight sections, was
relieved of the Munda Airfield defenses by the Army 77th AAA Group.
The 9th Defense Battalion spent several weeks in camp in the Munda
area waiting for transportation. These weeks were not idle as central
camps for the several groups had to be set up and improved. Training
schedules, begun in the later stages of the campaign, were carried out.
Transport ships were available for the trip to the Russell Islands
beginning on 13 January 1944 and continued until the entire battalion
move was completed on 25 February.

The fighting by the 9th Defense Battalion contributed considerably to
the victory of the land forces on New Georgia, and demonstrated the
value of advance base defense. The 9th was in action against Japanese
aircraft on 59 different days, for a total of 159 fire missions and 249
alerts, with 46 enemy planes downed. Not counted in these statistics
were aircraft damaged or diverted from their intended targets and
forced to undertake less accurate nighttime bombing missions. The
fire of 155mm guns destroyed a number of enemy artillery positions
and troops on Munda, Baanga, and Kolombangara. Numerous pillboxes and
machine gun positions were destroyed and enemy troops killed by the
tank platoon on New Georgia Island. Although the firing batteries
and tanks were the most active elements of the battalion, other
components of the battalion were deeply involved in the fighting also.
The battalion also destroyed a machine gun position and killed three
Japanese on Rendova and killed another 22 enemy and captured two
prisoners at Zanana.

Battalion losses throughout the campaign were remarkably few: 13
dead, 1 missing, over 50 wounded in action, and other non-battle
casualties. Malaria caused a number of the Marines to be evacuated.
General Griswold summarized the battalion’s performance by concluding
that every “officer and man of the organization has reason to feel
proud of its accomplishment.” The I Marine Amphibious Corps commander,
Lieutenant General Alexander A. Vandegrift, said “how proud I am to
belong to the same outfit as they do.”



[Sidebar (page 12): The ‘Green Dragon’ Landing Ship, Tank


[Illustration:

    Drawing by Kerr Eby, U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection
]

Amphibious warfare in the Pacific required ships with ocean-going
capabilities that could also be “beached” in the course of landing
operations. This requirement was met with the design and production
of the Landing Ship, Tank (LST) that was used in combat for the first
time in the Central Solomons, where it earned its nickname because of
a camouflage paint scheme. There were 1,052 LSTs built during World
War II for the U.S. Navy, with minor differences between the various
classes. The LSTs had elevators and deck ramps to connect the main deck
and tank deck, providing for smaller landing craft to be transported
on the main deck, and a conning tower added over the pilot house. They
were armed with 40mm and 20mm antiaircraft guns in twin and single
mounts. The LSTs displaced 1,653 tons, with a length of 328 feet, a
beam of 50 feet, and were driven by General Motor diesels.
]



[Sidebar (page 16): The ‘Long Tom’ 155mm M1A1 Gun


The first defense battalions were equipped with naval ordnance designed
for shipboard mounting and modified for use ashore, often requiring
extensive engineering and manhandling to emplace in static positions.
The war soon required the ordnance to be mobile, which was accomplished
by adapting Army ordnance material. Obtained first were the standard
M1918 GPF 155mm guns. These were followed by the M1A1 155mm gun
employed by defense and corps artillery battalions throughout the war.
This piece weighed 30,600 pounds, had a split trail and eight pneumatic
tires, was moved by a tractor, and was served by a combined crew of 15
men. It could be pedestal mounted on the so-called “Panama Mount” for
its coast-defense mission. It remained in the Marine Corps inventory
long after World War II.

[Illustration:

    Drawing by Kerr Eby, U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection
]
]



[Sidebar (page 19): Field Medicine


[Illustration:

    Drawing by Kerr Eby, U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection
]

Medical care of Marine units in the Central Solomons was provided by
U.S. Navy medical officers and corpsman assigned to these units. Combat
casualties were not the only medical concern because of the primitive
conditions that existed during the campaign. The 9th Defense Battalion
lost an average of 2.42 men a day, or 65.17 a month, to causes other
than combat injuries. The 1st Marine Raider Regiment found itself on 11
August 1943, with 436 men of its 956 Marines fit for duty. Other than
those wounded in action, it became necessary to evacuate malaria cases
also. Getting casualties to the beach or airfield through the jungle
or over the muddy roads and trails was extremely difficult. After the
landings on New Georgia, only the most serious malarial cases were
evacuated. Much of the recurring malaria was undoubtedly brought on by
the combination of hard work under combat conditions, lack of sleep,
and inadequate diet. Besides malaria, there was a considerable amount
of dysentery, diarrhea, minor fevers, fungus infections, and boils.
There were even a few cases of psychoneurosis or “combat fatigue.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Note: The Kerr Eby charcoal drawings in this pamphlet are from the U.S.
Navy Combat Art Collection. Kerr Eby studied at the Art Students League
in New York and the Pratt Institute. He served as a sergeant in the
U.S. Army in World War I and was accredited as an artist-correspondent
for Abbot Laboratories in World War II. In 1943 through 1944, he went
to the Solomons and the Gilberts and produced these and many other
drawings, since reproduced widely in this country and abroad.
]



[Sidebar (page 29): Flight Clothing and Equipment


[Illustration: Drawing by Kerr Eby, U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection]

Flight clothing was considered naval aviation equipment rather than
a purely Marine Corps uniform and was strictly functional. Basic
items included leather boots, leather gloves, goggles, a cloth helmet
that contained headphones, and a one-piece cotton khaki flying suit.
Captain John M. Foster, flying from Munda, stated he wore a flying suit
and then slung a “leather shoulder holster containing my 45-caliber
automatic over my neck and buckled the belt, strung with my hunting
knife, first-aid kit, extra cartridges and canteen, around my waist.”
He also wore a baseball cap and carried his flying helmet, goggles, and
gloves. In addition, the pilots carried 65 pounds of parachute, rubber
raft, and “jungle pack.”
]



_Milk Runs and Black Sheep_


The first Marines to fight at New Georgia were the aircrews who were
sent to blunt Japanese efforts to establish an airfield at Munda Point
in December 1942. Thus began a routine air and sea pounding of the
Munda Airfield until ground forces could capture it for Allied use.

For Marine flyers, these missions evoked “a parade of impressions--long
over-water flights; jungle hills slipping by below; the sight of the
target--airfield, ship, or town, sometimes all three; the attack and
the violent defense; and then the seemingly longer, weary return....”
The role of land-based aviation in the Central Solomons Campaign was
critical, because the Japanese air effort had to be neutralized before
Allied air and ground forces could climb up the Solomons ladder towards
Rabaul. Unless the Allies could capture suitable airfields closer to
the Japanese base areas at Rabaul and Bougainville, the air war would
be limited in range and effect. The Guadalcanal airfields were 650
miles from Rabaul, Munda Point was a somewhat-closer 440 miles. For
Marines aviators, Munda was a rung on the ladder that ended at Rabaul.

The air war for the Central Solomons was a series of sorties--fighter
sweeps and bombing runs. For aviation units, the operating area was
divided into the combat area, the forward area, and the rear area.
These zones shifted as the campaigns moved north towards the Rabaul
area. While the 1st and 2d Marine Aircraft Wings were present in the
Southern Pacific, Marines flew under a joint air command, Commander
Aircraft Solomons (ComAirSols). Rear Admiral Marc A. Mitscher’s
ComAirSols was comprised of three subordinate segments: Bomber,
Fighter, and Strike Commands. Strike Command was led by Colonel
Christian F. Schilt, who had been awarded a Medal of Honor for heroism
in Nicaragua in 1928, and Fighter Command was under Colonel Edward L.
Pugh; both veteran Marine aviators in a structure where experience,
“not rank, seniority, or service,” was paramount. The Marine squadrons
flew Grumman F4F Wildcats, Grumman F6F Hellcats, and Chance-Vought
F4U Corsairs in Fighter Command; and Grumman or General Motors TBF
Avenger torpedo bombers and Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers in
Strike Command. Also operating in the theater was Marine Aircraft
Group 25, the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command (SCAT),
which flew unarmed transport planes, Douglas R4D Skytrains, bringing
in supplies and replacements and evacuating wounded without fighter
escorts such as the bombing missions had. Some 40 other squadrons were
in rearward bases, making a total of 669 aircraft available for the
Central Solomons campaign. They were opposed in the air by the Japanese
_Eleventh Air Fleet_ and Japanese Army air units defending New Guinea.

The Corsair, known as the “Whistling Death” to the Japanese and the
“Bent Wing Widow Maker” to the Marines, was delivered in March 1943
in time to have eight Marine squadrons available for the New Georgia
campaign. The Corsair, along with the new F6F Hellcat fighter,
dominated the air-to-air battle to sweep the skies of the Japanese.
This superiority was enhanced by Army Air Corps aircraft, the Lockheed
P-38 Lightning, for example. Once introduced, each new aircraft version
could do a little more than the basic models; it could fly higher, fly
longer, and carry more armament than its predecessor. Advances in radio
detection and ranging (radar) and communications continued as well to
ensure the control systems kept pace with the aircraft.

One Marine with Fighter Command, Major John P. Condon, recalled that
ComAirSols routinely struck the airfields of southern Bougainville
“with escorted bombers, night attacks by Navy and Marine Corps TBFs,
and some mining at night of the harbors.” He went on to observe that
the shorter-range SBDs were “invariably escorted in their routine
reduction efforts against the fields in New Georgia.” Routine did
not mean safe, as the Japanese just as routinely made their fighter
presence known. Naval officer and novelist James A. Michener heard a
pilot observe that he was “damned glad to be the guy that draws the
milk runs.” But, “if you get bumped off on one of them, why you’re just
as dead as if you were over Tokyo in a kite.”

One incident occurred that symbolized the joint nature of the
air effort, the destruction of the aircraft transporting Admiral
Isoroku Yamamoto, who had planned the attack on Pearl Harbor. Allied
intelligence agencies learned that the admiral and his staff would fly
to Kahili on 18 April 1943. Admiral Mitscher ordered Fighter Command
to intercept Yamamoto’s aircraft. Planning for this mission fell to
the Fighter Command’s deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Luther S. Moore, who
scheduled Army long-range P-38 Lightnings fitted with Navy navigational
equipment for the task. The flight plan was prepared by the command
operations officer, Major Condon. Yamamoto’s plane was intercepted and
shot down, ending the life of one of Japan’s major combat leaders.

At the end of April 1943, the Japanese _Eleventh Air Fleet_ launched a
series of determined, but unsuccessful, attacks to disrupt the Allied
buildup on Guadalcanal and in the Russell Islands. These continued
through the month, and on 16 June, ComAirSols planes intercepted and
virtually destroyed 100 Japanese aircraft before they reached their
target, the New Georgia invasion fleet. By the end of the month, the
Allied forces were landing on New Georgia and the Japanese lost the
battle to disrupt the offensive. The Japanese responded with repeated
raids against shipping and landing areas, but the balance of air power
was decidedly with Commander Aircraft Solomons. A Marine airman wrote
that the Japanese were creating an ever-growing number of Marine, Army,
and Navy fighter aces in the process.

[Illustration: _The first Marines to fight in the Central Solomons
campaign were the airmen based on Guadalcanal and the Russell Islands.
They flew the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers that struck at Munda
and elsewhere on New Georgia prior to the landings. In 1943, the planes
were painted, from top to bottom, sea blue, intermediate blue, and
semi-gloss sea blue, with insignia white undersurface._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 81420
]

By June, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 21 was pounding away at Munda,
but not without losses. Flying from Guadalcanal and Russell Islands,
ComAirSols fighter and strike aircraft covered the Toenails landings
and subsequent operations ashore. From 30 June 1943 through July, there
were only two days that did not have “Condition Red” and dogfights
with Japanese aircraft over the objective area by Allied combat air
patrols. At the same time, Japanese naval forces were located and
attacked, thus forcing the Japanese to move at night by circuitous
routes with landing barges alone. Bomber and Strike Command aircraft
ranged as far north as Ballale, Buin, Kahili, and the Shortlands in
concert with Fifth Air Force strikes at the same locations.

Despite this pressure, the Japanese continued to attack Allied forces
from the air. ComAirSols planes were not able to operate effectively at
night within range of Allied antiaircraft artillery that could not tell
friendly from enemy aircraft. Another obstacle to total Allied success
was the dense jungle-covered terrain that hindered identification
targets and accurate assessment of the results of air strikes.

For efficient air control for the New Georgia operation, Admiral
Mitscher set up a new command, Commander Aircraft New Georgia (ComAir
New Georgia), as part of the landing force and under Marine Brigadier
General Francis P. Mulcahy, who commanded the 2d Marine Aircraft
Wing. ComAir New Georgia had no aircraft of his own, but controlled
everything in the air above or launched from a New Georgia airfield.
Mulcahy and his staff ensured command, control, and coordination of
direct support air for the New Georgia Occupation Force after it had
landed.

ComAir New Georgia established its command on Rendova after the
assault waves landed on D-Day, 30 June 1943. From Rendova, he began
to integrate the air defense and support system to provide XIV Corps
with direct air support. On 11 July, Commander Aircraft Segi under
Lieutenant Colonel Perry O. Parmelee was established under Mulcahy’s
direct command. The ground forces were ashore on New Georgia and
pushed ahead at Zanana and Laiana and were poised at the edge of Munda
Airfield at the end of July. Mulcahy provided air support to the
infantry advance at Munda Point and against other Japanese-held areas
on New Georgia. By the end of the campaign, Mulcahy had ordered over
1,800 preplanned sorties mainly flown by SBDs and TBFs against targets
at Viru, Wickham, Munda, Enogai, and Bairoko.

[Illustration: _The Vought F4U Corsair, such as these on the Russell
Islands, provided much of the air support in the New Georgia campaign.
Here they taxi out from revetments onto the air strip to meet Japanese
planes coming down The Slot from Bougainville and Rabaul._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 61335B
]

[Illustration:

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 59989

_BGen Francis P. Mulcahy, Commander Air Solomons, at right, at his
headquarters at Munda. On the left is Army Air Force Col Fiske Marshall
and 1stLt Dorothy Shikoski, an Army nurse who flew with Marine
transport squadrons during medical evacuations._]

In addition, there were some 44 close air support strikes using ad hoc
forward air control and tactical air control parties from Mulcahy’s
command. This was a significant step in the evolution of the air
control system that eventually formed the air-ground team for the
Marines. Close air support missions were planned in detail the day
prior to execution. The requested missions went to Mulcahy and, if he
approved, they then were forwarded to Guadalcanal, the Russells, or
Segi Point for scheduling. The next day these aircraft reported to a
rendezvous point and contacted an air support party on the ground which
used radio, lights, smoke, or air panels to direct the strike. General
Mulcahy commented that the use of aircraft close to the frontlines
“proved to be impractical” with accuracy.

The R4D Skytrains of MAG-25 delivered 100,000 pounds of food, water,
ammunition, and medicine that was the Northern Landing Group’s only
source of supply at times. This support prompted one Marine raider to
ask that the air drop containers be combat, or spread, loaded as on one
occasion they recovered 19 of a 20-container load drop and “only later
discovered the missing drop contained medicinal brandy.” Air drops of
supplies went to the other ground forces as well, throughout a campaign
fought in difficult, trackless, terrain.

On 25 July, a massive strike consisting of 66 B-17 and B-24 bombers
in concert with naval gunfire ships struck at Lambetti Plantation,
followed by an 84-plane strike on antiaircraft artillery positions at
Biblio Hill. This was coordinated with the final drive to take the
campaign’s main objective, Munda airstrip. The Japanese continued to
delay the 43d Infantry Division and another strike followed on 1 August
by a 36-plane attack of SBDs and TBFs, protected by some 30 fighters.

After the capture of Munda Point, General Mulcahy moved his command
from Rendova to Munda airfield to set up strike and fighter control
at Kokengolo Hill. In a Japanese-built tunnel that Navy Seabees had
cleared of debris and dead, Mulcahy was able to conduct round-the-clock
operations. The first fighters assigned to Munda landed at 1500 on
14 August. While safe, the Seabee-cleared shelter was also hot and
smelled of its former dead occupants. On 15 August, Mulcahy sent
VMF-123 and -124 fighters from Munda and Segi fields to cover the
Vella Lavella landings, during which they claimed 26 Japanese aircraft
downed. On this day, VMF-124’s First Lieutenant Kenneth A. Walsh began
a streak that would eventually earn him the Medal of Honor for shooting
down 21 Japanese aircraft. After accounting for three aircraft over
Vella Lavella, he brought his Corsair back to Munda Field with 20mm
holes in the wings, several hydraulic lines cut, a holed vertical
stabilizer, and a flat tire.

From 16 through 19 August 1943, the Japanese shelled the airfield in
the day and bombed it at night. The artillery threat was eliminated
with the capture of Baanga Island, but the air raids continued with
intermittent bombing and strafing through the fall. From then, until
the establishment of airfields on Bougainville three months later,
Munda Field was the scene of intense activity as planes landed and took
off to strike at Rabaul and Japanese shipping which were first trying
to supply, and then evacuate, ground forces. Many barges were destroyed
in the withdrawal that took some 9,400 Japanese off Kolombangara.
Admiral Halsey believed that 3,000 to 4,000 other Japanese were killed
during these evacuations.

[Illustration: _Munda Airfield was an essential element in supporting
Allied air support in the battles for Vella Lavella, Bougainville, and
New Britain that followed. Until air fields were established at Empress
Augusta Bay on Bougainville in November 1943, Munda was the scene of
intense aviation activity._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection
]

Captain John M. Foster, an F4U pilot, wrote about flying during this
time and his first mission from Munda. “Never had I attempted to
land a plane on a field as narrow and short as the Munda strip,” he
recalled. Rolling onto the taxiway, he was thankful for the 2,000
horsepower of engine to “plow through the mud.” The crews lived in
tents and messed in a screened framed building chow-hall which the
Seabees built. The air units provided dawn to dusk coverage, with the
night spent in rest and recovery. The night’s sleep was often disrupted
by the appearance of a single Japanese bomber variously called “Washing
Machine Charlie,” “Louie the Louse,” “Maytag Charlie,” or “other names
less printable.”

[Illustration:

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_Here Batteries A and B set up at Piru Plantation to shell Vila. The
counterbattery exchanges with the Japanese on Kolombangara gave the
battle a personal note. Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division add
graffiti to a shell to be sent as a “Message from FDR” at the campaigns
end._]

On 24 August, ComAir New Georgia at Munda was relieved by Commander
Aircraft Solomon’s Fighter Command, at which time, General Mulcahy
turned over his responsibilities to Colonel William O. Brice. Mulcahy’s
staff continued to coordinate liaison and spotter aircraft and
strike missions launching from Munda Field until relieved of these
responsibilities by ComAirSols on 24 September.

“Success in the air is a lot of little things,” observed VMF-214’s
commander and Medal of Honor recipient, Major Gregory (Pappy)
Boyington, and most of them “can be taken care of before takeoff.” With
the Japanese air bases now within closer range of Allied aircraft,
Boyington and others conducted fighter sweeps of 36 to 48 planes that
were classics of their kind. Throughout this, escorted bomber and
strafing attacks continued. The capture and use of Munda Field was now
felt by the Japanese “in spades” observed Fighter Command’s Condon, as
dive bombing and strafing attacks against the enemy were daily routine.

On 28 August, First Lieutenant Alvin J. Jensen of VMF-214 was lost
in a rainstorm over Kahili and when he broke through the clouds he
found himself inverted over the Japanese field. Turning wings level,
he proceeded to shoot up the flight-line and accounted for 24 enemy
aircraft on the ground. Photographs confirmed the damage and Jensen
earned the Navy Cross for this work, described as “one of the greatest
single-handed feats” of the Pacific War.

During this time, Lieutenant Colonel Frank H. Schwable’s VMF(N)-531
arrived in the Russells to begin night-fighter operations along with a
similar Navy unit. Using ground-controlled radar intercept vectors, the
squadron’s Lockheed PV-1 Venturas then closed for the kill using the
aircraft’s on-board radar. This began the Marines’ ability to deny the
Japanese the cover of darkness over Vella Lavella and elsewhere.

Air support during the Central Solomons campaign was considered of
high quality by all commanders. Aviation historian and veteran Pacific
War correspondent Robert Sherrod estimated that of the 358 aircraft
the Japanese lost during this campaign, 187 were destroyed by Marine
air. More significant were the resultant deaths of highly trained and
experienced pilots and crews whom the Japanese could not replace.
Marine aviation unit casualties for operations in the Central Solomons
were 34 of the 97 Allied aircraft lost. As a postscript to New Georgia
operations, on 20 October 1943, Commander Aircraft Solomons moved to
Munda to use the airfield as his headquarters from which he would fight
the New Britain and Bougainville campaigns.



[Sidebar (page 30): The Douglas R4D ‘Skytrain’


[Illustration:

    Drawing by Kerr Eby, U.S. Navy Combat Art Collection
]

Not all aircraft in the Central Solomons were fighters or bombers. The
Douglas DC-3 Skytrain or Dakota (C-47 in the Navy version) was designed
in 1933, and became the standard American transport of the war. The
plane was an all-metal monoplane with twin engines and retractable
landing gear. It was powered by two Pratt & Whitney radial engines
of 1,200 horsepower each. It carried a crew of three, 28 passengers
or 18 stretchers, and three medical attendants. It could also carry
up to 6,000 pounds of cargo at average speeds of 185 miles-per-hour.
The U.S. Navy and Marines had some 600 Skytrains, designated as R4Ds.
In the Central Solomons they were used for air resupply and medical
evacuation. The Marines were still using the C117, a variation of the
R4D into the 1970’s.
]



_A Joint Pattern for Victory_


The last Japanese air attacks on New Georgia came the nights of 16 and
17 January 1944, but by then the campaign was finished and the final
score taken. Army historian John Miller quoted a senior officer as
concluding that the heavily outnumbered Japanese stood off nearly four
Allied divisions in the course of the action, and successfully withdrew
to fight again. One Japanese noted at the time that the:

  ... Japanese Army is still depending on the hand-to-hand fighting
  of the Meiji Era while the enemy is using highly developed
  scientific weapons. Thinking it over, however, this poorly armed
  force of ours has not been overcome and we are still guarding this
  island.

In his postwar memoirs, Admiral Halsey commented on how the smell
of burnt reputations in the New Georgia campaign still filled his
nostrils. The smoking reputations Halsey referred to came as the result
of outright reliefs and transfers of senior officers and they were not
limited to any one service. Numerous changes were made in the command
structure until he got the commanders needed to produce results. The
payoff to the New Georgia operation resulted in the Vella Lavella
landings that bypassed Kolombangara and successful Bougainville and New
Britain campaigns that demonstrated the pattern for successful joint
operations there and throughout the Pacific War.

The Army had 1,094 men killed and 3,873 wounded in the fighting for
New Georgia, while the Marines suffered 650 casualties in all. The
Marines came through in better condition than might have been otherwise
expected. Morale during the periods of greatest danger had been high.
In the last two months of the campaign with enemy activity virtually
nonexistent, the effects of the rough conditions showed to a certain
extent, but at no time, was there any slackening in the performance of
duty. For most of the campaign, shelter and sanitation were absent and
the food, though usually of sufficient quantity, was seldom appetizing.

It was felt after the Solomons campaign that “struggle for control of
the Solomon Islands was a critical turning point in the war against
Japan. These campaigns can best be appreciated as a sequence of
interacting naval, land, and air operations.” The contribution to the
ability to conduct joint operations was measured in the differences
between the fighting on New Georgia in the summer 1943 and the success
realized at Bougainville and Cape Gloucester later in the year. Here
was a pattern for joint operations, and, as coastwatcher D.C. Horton
phrased it, it was a “pattern for victory.”

[Illustration: _Even though the 9th Defense Battalion Artillery Group
positions at Munda Airfield were bombed, they continued to fire at
assigned targets. Here elements of Battery A smolders after an air
raid._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) Photo 56830
]



_Sources_


The basic sources for this pamphlet were the second volume in the
series _History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II,
Isolation of Rabaul_, written by Henry I. Shaw, Jr. and Maj Douglas
T. Kane, USMC (Washington: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, HQMC,
1963), and Maj John T. Rentz, USMCR, _Marines in the Central Solomons_
(Washington: Historical Branch, HQMC, 1952). Other books used in this
narrative were: Adm William F. Halsey and J. Bryan III, _Admiral
Halsey’s Story_ (New York, McGraw Hill, 1947); Saburo Hayashi and
Alvin D. Coox, _Kogun, The Japanese Army in the Pacific_ (Quantico:
Marine Corps Association, 1959); RAdm Samuel E. Morison, _Breaking the
Bismarcks Barrier: History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II_,
vol VI (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1950); Robert L. Sherrod,
_History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II_ (Washington:
Combat Forces Press, 1952); Charles A. Updegraph, Jr., _U.S. Marine
Corps Special Units of World War II_ (Washington: History and Museums
Division, HQMC, 1972); Col Joseph E. Zimmer, _The History of the
43d Infantry Division_ (Baton Rouge, LA: Army and Navy Publishing
Co., 1947); John Miller, Jr., _Cartwheel: The Reduction of Rabaul_
(Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of
the Army, 1959). In addition, in the Marine Corps Historical Center,
Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., are the Marine Corps Archives,
which contain much primary source material produced by the Marine Corps
units in the fighting in the Central Solomons. Also in the Center are
the Oral History and Personal Papers Collections, containing many
first-hand accounts of the operation.

The author wishes to thank members of the raider, aviation, and defense
battalion reunion groups and associations which provided letters,
manuscripts, and recollections to aid in the writing of this history.



_About the Author_


[Illustration]

Major Charles D. Melson, USMC (Retired) is originally from the San
Fransciso Bay area. He is married to Janet Ann Pope, a former Navy
Nurse.

Major Melson completed graduate education at St. John’s College in
Annapolis. He is a coauthor of _The War that Would Not End_, a volume
in the official history of Marine Corps operations in Vietnam, and
is the author of _Vietnam Marines_. He served as a historian in the
Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard, for six years and
continues to deal with the past as the director of The Queen Anne’s
Museum of Eastern Shore Life in Maryland. Major Melson was a Marine for
25 years, 1967 to 1992, and served in Vietnam in a variety of Fleet
Marine Force positions. He was a history instructor at the United
States Naval Academy, and served also at Headquarters, U.S. Marine
Corps.



[Illustration]

THIS PAMPHLET HISTORY, one in a series devoted to U.S. Marines in
the World War II era, is published for the education and training of
Marines by the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine
Corps, Washington. D.C., as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense
observance of the 50th anniversary of victory in that war.

Printing costs for this pamphlet have been defrayed in part by the
Defense Department World War II Commemoration Committee. Editorial
costs of preparing this pamphlet have been defrayed in part by a
bequest from the estate of Emilie H. Watts, in memory of her late
husband, Thomas M. Watts, who served as a Marine and was the recipient
of a Purple Heart.

    WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATIVE SERIES

    _DIRECTOR OF MARINE CORPS HISTORY AND MUSEUMS_
    =Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret)=

    _GENERAL EDITOR
    WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATIVE SERIES_
    =Benis M. Frank=

    _CARTOGRAPHIC CONSULTANT_
    =George C. MacGillivray=

    _EDITING AND DESIGN SECTION, HISTORY AND MUSEUMS DIVISION_
    =Robert E. Struder=, Senior Editor;
    =W. Stephen Hill=, Visual Information
    Specialist; =Catherine A. Kerns=, Composition Services Technician

    Marine Corps Historical Center
    Building 58, Washington Navy Yard
    Washington, D.C. 20374-0580

    =1993=

    PCN 190 003121 00


[Illustration]



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not
changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

To make this eBook easier to read, particularly on handheld devices,
most images have been made relatively larger than in the original
pamphlet, and centered, rather than offset to one side or the other;
and some were placed a little earlier or later than in the original.
Sidebars in the original have been repositioned between chapters and
identified as “[Sidebar (page nn):”, where the page reference is to the
original location in the source book. In the Plain Text version, the
matching closing right bracket follows the last line of the Sidebar’s
text and is on a separate line to make it more noticeable. In the HTML
versions, that bracket follows the colon, and each Sidebar is displayed
within a box.

The spelling of “Biblio Hill” has been made consistent.

Page 32: “hindered identification targets” probably is missing an “of”.





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