The 32D 'Red Arrow' Veteran Association
The 32D Infantry Division
in World War II
The ‘Red Arrow’
Papuan Campaign - Strategic Situation & the Advance to Buna
In the Fall of 1942 the Japanese were in control of half of the Pacific and a large portion of the Asian continent. It was felt that they were seriously considering an invasion of Australia. The U.S. Navy's victories at the Coral Sea and Midway in May and June of 1942 had improved the strategic situation somewhat. But these defeats did not deter the Japanese from continuing their two pronged offensive in the Southwest Pacific with the objective of cutting the supply line from America to Australia and New Zealand. The eastern drive through the Solomon Islands was eventually halted at Guadalcanal.
“NEW” photo added 12 Dec. 12
Map depicting New Guinea’s strategic location in the Southwest Pacific in 1942, from U.S. Army Center of Military History brochure ‘Papua’.
The western drive was attempted in order to gain control of southeastern New Guinea, especially the Papuan capital of Port Moresby, which would put them in striking distance of Australia and would strengthen their defenses in the Southwest Pacific. The Japanese defeat during the Battle of the Coral Sea halted their effort to capture Port Moresby by sea. Undaunted, the Japanese landed troops at Buna, Gona and Sanananda on the northeast coast of Papua in July and pushed southward across the Papuan peninsula toward Port Moresby.
Control of the north coast of New Guinea was also vital to future Allied strategy. Taking it from the Japanese would remove the threat of an attack on Australia and would reduce the threat to the Allied supply line from America. Air bases established on New Guinea would increase the reach of Allied planes. From these bases, the Allies could threaten the center of Japanese power in the Southwest Pacific, Rabaul.
Before you read of the 32nd Division's experiences and victory in the Papuan Campaign, it is important that you become aware of the many variables which contributed directly to the Division's performance. As you will soon read, the early stages of the campaign did not go well. But you will later read that the Division eventually prevailed, by overcoming the multitude of challenges that it faced through the tremendous sacrifices, sheer determination and conspicuous bravery its soldiers.
The 32nd Division's early difficulties, like most American units early in the war, were partly the result of the fact that America had a very small standing military before World War II. The resulting rapid military expansion necessitated by the war contributed to serious early deficiencies in leaders, weapons, equipment and training. The turnover of senior leaders and sudden influx of inexperienced, raw recruits had been considerable. The Division's training was adversely affected by its reorganization from a 'square' division to a 'triangular' division shortly before it entered combat. Its training was further hampered by its sudden change of mission (from Europe to the Pacific Theater) and the resulting moves related to that change. During the period from February 1942, when General Harding took command, to the Division's entrance into combat in November, the Division was, as Harding said, "always getting ready to move, on the move, or getting settled after a move. (qtd. in Blakeley 84)"
In Australia, the Division's initial training was geared toward the fact that its most likely course of action would be to defend Australia against an invasion by the Japanese. When it was realized that the Division would instead carry the fight to the Japanese in the jungles of New Guinea, the needed jungle training was inhibited by lack of time and resources. Little was known about Japanese fighting techniques. Training sites and training aids for jungle training, as well as weapons and equipment adapted to jungle warfare, were inadequate or non-existent. In addition to supply and equipment shortages that seem to be common in all wars, the Southwest Pacific had the major handicap of its incredibly long supply lines. The chain of command, from MacArthur, through two Australian headquarters, to the Division, was the cause of some problems.
Also, the Division was initially committed to battle with only two of its infantry regiments (one of which was subsequently taken away), and none of its organic artillery, save one howitzer, and some of its mortars. "The artillery at the disposal of the 32nd Division during the campaign never exceeded eight Australian guns of various light calibers and one 105 mm American howitzer. (Blakeley 56)" These few artillery pieces had to support the Australian forces as well as the 32D Division.
The climate and terrain in Papua could not have been worse. The terrain around Buna was swampy and flat. Most of the area consisted of incredibly dense vegetation which was a considerable obstacle not only to movement, but also observation, communications (wire and radio), fire (both direct and indirect), air support, supply, and evacuation. The climate of the area was wet, hot and humid. The rainy season was just beginning; the rivers were deeper, wider and faster than normal and the swamps were wetter than normal as well. All of the tropical diseases prevalent in this type of environment flourished, including malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, athlete’s foot, ringworm and others. Effective medicines to prevent and treat these diseases were not readily available.
Another issue that would have a direct impact on the Division was the inaccurate information available about the disposition of the Japanese forces. The natives provided the Division G2 with information that led him to believe the Japanese garrison at Buna was about a battalion. The Army Air Forces found no signs of the Japanese or their defensive positions. General MacArthur's headquarters also seriously underestimated the strength and effectiveness of the enemy at Buna. Based on what they had been told, the belief in the 32nd Division was that Buna could be captured easily.
As was soon learned, at great cost, the Japanese had a well prepared position extending for over ten miles along the coast. It consisted of three main defensive groups at Gona, Sanananda and Buna. The Japanese were able to use the open beach for rapid communication between these groups. The attackers had to struggle through impenetrable jungles and swamps. The American and Australian attacks were highly canalized on narrow fronts because there were few trails through the swamps and jungle. The Japanese were very familiar with these few and poor avenues of approach, so they were well covered by fire from well prepared, mutually supporting positions. These positions were solidly constructed, to include effective overhead cover, from heavy logs, and steel oil drums filled with sand. Some positions were made of concrete and steel. They were all excellently camouflaged; the fast growing jungle vegetation made them nearly invisible.
Best estimates suggest a force of about 6,500 Japanese in the Buna area in mid-November; of these about 1,000 were fresh reinforcements from Rabaul. Aside from the fresh troops, the Japanese were not in great shape. They consisted of fragments of several different army, navy and marine units, making their organization problematic. Many were sick or exhausted. Weapons, food and medical supplies were in short supply, but stocks of ammunition were adequate. Despite these hardships, and aided by their advantageous defensive positions, they still possessed the will and the capability of putting up a strong fight.
"More important still was the fact that for most men concerned it was their first experience under fire. No training, no tests, no personal evaluations quite equal to the first trial by fire. It is a painful definitive shakedown for every unit. Often the unexpected happens. A loud-mouthed, aggressive leader folds up; a quiet, unimpressive man becomes a natural leader; and sometimes the braggart makes good and the timid man becomes more timid . . . the unit will never again be as unstable as it was during its first fight." (Blakeley 55)
On 13 September 1942, General MacArthur announced that he would send the 32D ‘Red Arrow’ Infantry Division to New Guinea.
This decision was due (at least in part) to the fact that by 14 September the tired Australian militia units had been pushed back to within thirty-two miles of Port Moresby (most of Australia's Army was fighting the Germans in North Africa at this time). These militia units had been fighting the Japanese since they had landed at Buna, Gona and Sanananda in July. The blunt reality was that soldiers were urgently needed on the Papuan Peninsula. Even though the 32D Division wasn't ready to go; they were the only division available. (The 41ST ‘Jungleers’ Infantry Division was assembling in Australia at this time, but the entire division was not on the ground yet.)
Two regimental combat teams (RCT) of the 32D were designated for initial deployment to New Guinea, the 126TH (COL Lawrence A. Quinn) and 128TH (COL J. Tracy Hale). Each infantry regiment was joined by a platoon of the 114TH Engineers, a collecting company and a platoon from the clearing company of the 107TH Medical Battalion, and a detachment of the 32D Signal Company. The infantry howitzers, most of the 81mm mortars and the battalion of Divisional field artillery normally part of a RCT were left in Australia due to the difficulties of transporting them to New Guinea. Major General George C. Kenney, commander of the 5th Air Force, suggested that he could fly the first regiment in because the situation was critical and time was short. This sort of thing had not been attempted before, so one company would be used as a test to see how it would work.
At dawn on 15 September, Company E, 126TH Infantry, commanded by CPT Melvin Schultz, was the first unit to take off from Amberly Field in Brisbane for the 1,000 mile flight to Port Moresby. It was accompanied by a platoon of Company A, 114TH Engineers, and a small medical detachment, commanded by CPT John T. Boet. "In the rush of getting ready on short notice, there was not time to get the fatigue uniforms which had been sprayed with green camouflage dye thoroughly dried, and they were dried out on the men's backs as they flew north" (Blakeley 36).
"Because this company was the leading element of the 126TH, and that regiment was, in turn, the leading unit of the Division, General Harding told the men of the company that they were 'the spearhead of the spearhead of the spearhead.' Thereafter Company E proudly called itself 'The Three Spearheads'." (Blakeley 36)
The rest of the 126TH was shipped to Port Moresby by boat, starting on 18 September from Brisbane Harbor. General Kenney started flying the 128TH Infantry from Townsville, Australia to Port Moresby that same day.
“NEW” photo added 12 Dec. 12
Map depicting the location of Port Morseby and the Buna area on New Guinea’s Papuan Peninsula, from U.S. Army Center of Military History brochure ‘New Guinea’.
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
Australian sentry guards an American Boeing B-17 in the early morning as
soldiers of the 128TH Infantry, 32D Division, wait in
the distance to board a plane for New Guinea at Amberly Field,
By 25 September, the 128TH had completed its movement to Seven-Mile Strip near Port Moresby. The Japanese were able to frequently bomb this airfield, but the engineers could repair it quickly enough to keep it open.
"The Liberty Ship, Benjamin Franklin, anchored in the harbor at Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea, on the afternoon of Monday, September 28, 1942. Aboard was the 2nd Battalion, 126th Inf. (2/126), (less Co. E) and an Aussie Tank Co. Due to limited dock space, the troops were ferried ashore by an Aussie corvette. The 2/126 joined Co. E at Bootless Bay where they bivouacked." (Smith 1)
"The 128th was already opening a road in the Goldie River Valley, and Captain [William F.] Boice [Division S-2] with Lieutenant Bernard Howes, six men from Company E of the 126th, and some forty natives, had begun a reconnaissance of the trail from Kapa Kapa toward Jaure." (Blakeley 40)
The remainder of the 32D Division Headquarters, minus a rear detachment, arrived in Port Moresby by air on the 29 September.
"General MacArthur and the Australian commander of New Guinea Force, (Gen. Sir Thomas Blamey) decided that while the Australians were driving the Japanese back along the Kokoda Trail, the 32nd Division would make a wide envelopment to the east and attack the enemy’s left flank in the vicinity of Buna. The initial plan was to march the entire Division over the mountains, but both Kenney and Harding argued for an air movement to insure speed and avoid dissipating the strength of the Division by marching it across the exhausting mountain trails. The plan, as finally adopted, provided that most of the enveloping force was to go by air to the seacoast southeast of Buna." (Blakeley 40) The straight-line distance from Port Moresby to Buna is 120 miles, but between them lies the 13,000 foot Owen Stanley mountain range.
The 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, was designated for the grueling mission of protecting the right flank of the Australians, by marching over the Owen Stanley Mountains on the Kapa Kapa Trail.
On 6 October 1942 an advance detachment started out from Kalikadobu to set up air drop zones along the Kapa Kapa – Dobodura Trail at Laruni and Jaure. Kalikadobu was nicknamed Kalamazoo by the 126TH Inf. (a reference to their home state of Michigan). This detachment was commanded by Captain Alfred Medendorp and consisted of the 126TH‘s Antitank and Cannon Companies (functioning as infantry, their artillery was left in Australia) plus 100 natives.
On 7 October a detachment from Co. E was added to CPT Medendorp's force when it reached Nepeana. This new detachment included a five-man communications team commanded by Lt. James G. Downer and a 40-man rifle platoon led by Lt. Harold B. Chandler, Jr. They would act as CPT Medendorp’s advance guard from Nepeana to Jaure, where they would rejoin Co. E.
The remainder of the 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, started out on 14 October, with Company E (CPT Schultz) leading, followed by Co. F (Lt. Erwin Nummer). The rest of the companies followed at one day intervals. General Harding's advance headquarters was at Kalamazoo at this time. The 3D (and part of the 1ST) Battalion of the 126TH would later be flown to Pongani. The remainder of 1ST Battalion was flown to Abel’s Field in the upper Musa Valley, where they then had a difficult march through the swamp to Pongani.
Meanwhile the 128TH Infantry was flown to Wanigela Mission on Collingswood Bay, 65 miles southeast of Buna. Most of the regiment completed this move on 14-18 October, with LTC Kelsie E. Miller's 3D Battalion as the lead element. The plan was that the 128TH would march to Pongani, about 25 miles from Buna, with the 6th Independent Company (Australian) leading the way. BG Hanford ‘Jack’ MacNider, an officer on MacArthur’s staff, was attached to the 32D Div. and MG Harding made him commander of this task force (which a few weeks later became Warren Task Force, or simply Warren Force).
BG MacNider had been in the G-4 Section at GHQ SWPA before MacArthur attached him to the 32D Division. Born and raised in Iowa, he graduated from Harvard University in 1911. He joined the Iowa National Guard ca. 1916 and served during the Mexican Border Crisis with 2D Iowa Inf. He started WWI as a 1LT in the 9TH Inf., 2D Div., and at the end he was LTC. After the war back in Iowa, he was elected state commander of the American Legion in 1920 and national commander in 1921. President Coolidge appointed him assistant secretary of war, as which he served from 1925 to 1928 (MAJ Dwight D. Eisenhower was his executive assistant). President Hoover appointed him envoy to Canada from 1930 to 1932. He returned to active military service after Pearl Harbor, was promoted to BG on 17 August 1942.
On 14 October, the Australians set out, traveling lightly, to blaze the trail. They discovered that the Musa River was in flood, and still rising. As a result, most of the trails in the area were unusable, but they were able to struggle to Pongani. The 128TH Infantry had a tougher time.
"The heavily loaded 3d Battalion, though only a day behind the Australians, was unable to get through. After foundering in knee-deep swamps, the men reached Totore on the afternoon of 16 October, and went into camp at a nearby point called Guri Guri, 'the most filthy, swampy, mosquito infested area,' Colonel Miller noted in his diary, that he had ever seen.
"A raft and log crossing was attempted at a nearby native village called Dove 1. Reconnaissance on the far side showed that a crossing there would put the battalion on the wrong route, and the project was abandoned in favor of a crossing at Dove 2, three miles downstream. On 18 October, 1500 feet of cable was dropped from the air at Guri Guri. No tools, tie wire, clamps, or bolts were dropped with the cable. Company M, under Capt. Frank N. Williams, and a platoon of Company C, 114th Engineer Battalion, carried the cable, strung out by hand, to Dove 2, and started establishing the crossing there.
"Though still without tools, clamps, or tie wire, Captain Williams soon had a makeshift crossing over the Musa. It too had to be abandoned when ANGAU (Australian-New Guinea Administrative Unit) passed on the information that the trail leading out of Dove 2 was under seven feet of water and impassable to anything except small boats and native canoes.
"On 20 October, Company M and the engineer platoon were ordered to rejoin the battalion at Guri Guri. They returned to find that the battalion's orders had been changed. Its instructions now were to turn north and march to Gobe, a point on the shore of Porlock Harbor, just around the east coast from Cape Nelson. The battalion was to be shuttled from Gobe to Pongani in such of the boats coming in with supplies from Milne Bay as could negotiate the treacherous waters around Cape Nelson. The 2d Battalion, which had been just behind the 3d on the Wanigela-Totore track, was ordered back to Wanigela, to be moved to Pongani by sea as soon as shipping was available. The elements of the 1st Battalion present at Wanigela were to follow immediately and the rest of the battalion was to be transferred to Pongani in the same fashion as soon as it reached Wanigela.
"The overland march of the 3d Battalion from Totore to Gobe lasted four days and took it through mosquito-infested swamp. The men arrived at their destination exhausted. Many of them had picked up malaria in the swamp, and the health of the battalion began deteriorating almost at once. In the opinion of those who knew it best, the 3rd Battalion continued to show the ill effects of its march through the swamps along the Musa throughout the rest of the campaign." (Victory in Papua, qtd. in Blakeley 43)
Around this time the 32D Division acquired its own navy, so to speak. The Division Quartermaster, LTC Laurence A. McKenny, was given control of eight small boats, luggers or trawlers, about 20 tons displacement each, for supply and evacuation between Wanigela and Pongani. Larger fishing boats, 100 to 120 tons displacement, were to bring supplies from Milne Bay along the coast to Wanigela but they could not proceed past there due to shallow reefs. Transferring the supplies to the smaller luggers meant they could be shipped much closer to the battle area. The larger boats were controlled by the Combined Operational Service Command (COSC); this was a joint U.S. & Australian unit which had recently been established to coordinate supplies for both armies on New Guinea. [updated 19 May ‘12]
These small boats proved very useful, but did not make life as easy as it would seem. Movement during daylight made them vulnerable to enemy air attack. There were no wharves, which meant the supplies had to be transferred, by hand, to even smaller boats off-shore, then ferried to the beaches, where they were unloaded again by hand. This fleet was handling most supplies, but some also had to be delivered by air, which was handicapped by inadequate landing fields and drop zones, bad weather, and enemy interference.
"The first two luggers reached Wanigela on 17 October and were at once sent forward to Pongani with men and supplies. Early the following morning, a Fifth Air Force B-25 mistook them for the enemy and bombed the boats off Pongani. Two men were killed; Lt. A. B. Fahnestock, in charge of small boat operations for the COSC, and Byron Darnton, a veteran correspondent of The New York Times who had served with the 32d Division during World War I, and had looked forward to reporting its operations in World War II. Several others were wounded, and one of the boats suffered such severe damage that it had to be withdrawn from the run." (Milner 108)
“NEW” photo added 4 Dec. 12
Australian War Memorial photo
Soldiers from 2D Bn., 128TH Inf., board the luggers at Wanigela for the trip to Pongani ca. 17 Oct. ’42.
“NEW” photo added 4 Dec. 12
Australian War Memorial photo
One of the luggers packed with Soldiers (possibly from 2D Bn., 128TH Inf., bound from Wanigela to Pongani ca. 17 Oct. ’42).
Several Soldiers earned the Silver Star for their gallantry on 18 October. Some of them are listed here and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.
CPT Harold A. Spraetz, from Wisconsin and commander of Co. G, 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for gallantry in action on 18 October Pongani. He was 1LT in HQ, 3D Bn., 128TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Reedsburg, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 14 Feb. ‘13]
PFC Shelby M. Roof, from Nebraska and assigned to the 32D Div., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 18 October near Pongani. [added 28 Apr. ‘13]
PVT Vernon E. Diegel, from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, earned the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 18 October near Pongani. [added 3 Apr. ‘13]
Several variables were preventing an all-out offensive by the 32D Division against the Japanese at this time. First, a large supply of food and ammunition would have to be accumulated north of the “Hump”, as the flyers called the Owen Stanley Mountains. Also, the high command changed their plan; now they decided to make a coordinated attack with the Australians (at Gona) and Americans (at Buna), but this required a delay because the Australians were still pushing the Japanese over the mountains and into the coastal areas. The 32D Division's drive on Buna would consist of two separate but simultaneous attacks, the first on the coast, the second from Dobodura.
An additional factor in the delay was the fact that the 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, had not arrived in the forward area yet. It was still enduring its exhausting struggle over the Owen-Stanley's.
"It was grueling march on a line paralleling the Kokoda Trail, and the men who made it will remember it forever as a living, wide-awake nightmare. For forty-two days they climbed, scrambled, clawed and suffered - many times cutting their own trail through some of the most awesome territory in the world.
“The Battalion was commanded by LTC Henry A. Geerds, who suffered a heart attack several days out. The Battalion was then taken over by Major Herbert M. Smith of Neillsville, Wisconsin. Smith led his men through eerie ghost forests where phosphorus lighted the trees and they sank to their knees in mud."
"It didn’t take them long to decide that there were items in their full-field equipment they could do without. They cut their blankets in half. They dumped their mosquito nettings at the side of the trail. Though it rained unrelentingly every afternoon and night they discarded their rain coats. Each man kept one uniform - the one he had on. They abandoned their shaving equipment and other toilet articles, keeping only their tooth brushes - with which they tried to keep their rifles clean.
"Day after day the Battalion plodded through some of the worst and wildest jungle in the world. They went through waist deep streams and along trails that were waist deep channels of mud. Half the time they could not see the sky - only matted leaves and vines. It would take five or six hours to go a mile, edging along cliff walls, hanging on to vines, up and down, up and down. Men got weaker and began to lag back . . . . There wasn’t any way of evacuating to the rear. Everyone was driven on by the fear of being left behind.
"Their bones ached and dysentery had hit almost every man. They were filthy and caked with mud, and washed themselves only when they happened to be crossing a river. They climbed to 8,000 feet, to the top of the gap through which they stumbled over the Owen Stanleys. It took them seven hours to crawl the last 2,000 feet. They couldn’t march for more than 15 minutes without lying down and resting." (CPT William R. Fleischer, qtd. in Blakeley 46-7)
The mountain pass they crossed through was known as Ghost Mountain, which Lt. Paul R. Lutjens (Co. E, 126TH) described in his diary.
“It was the eeriest place I ever saw. The trees were covered with moss a half a foot thick. We would walk along a hogback, straddling the trail, with a sheer drop of thousands of feet two feet on either side of us. We kept hearing water running somewhere, but we couldn’t find any. We could thrust a stick six feet down in the spongy stuff we were walking on without hitting anything real solid. It was ungodly cold. There wasn’t a sign of life. Not a bird. Not a fly. Not a sound. It was the strangest feeling I ever had. If we stopped, we froze. If we moved, we sweated.” (qtd. in Blakeley 47)
On 29 October Japanese aircraft bombed Allied forces near Tupuseli (Tupeseli), New Guinea. Several U.S. Soldiers were killed or seriously wounded. PVT Oliver Vance Winscot, from Omaha, Nebraska, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., was one of those KIA during the attack, a couple of weeks shy of his 23rd birthday. PVT Winscot was posthumously bestowed with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Tec. Floyd J. Nichols, from San Antonio, Texas, and Tec. Marvin E. Borgman, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, were both medics assigned to the 126TH Inf. who earned the Silver Star for their efforts to treat the wounded during the attack on 29 October. More information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. Tec. Borgman was a PVT in Med. Det., 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Grand Rapids, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. He was later KIA 11 Dec. ’44 on Leyte. [added 18 Feb. ‘13]
While the 2D Battalion was enduring its tremendously difficult journey, they had to be supplied by air drops along their route. On 5 November 1942, COL Quinn, commander of the 126TH Inf., was KIA while flying on one of these air drop missions. During the drop, one of the cargo parachutes became tangled in the tail assembly of the plane, causing it to crash in the Owen Stanley Mountains near Natunga, killing COL Quinn and everyone else on board. The plane was a C-47 named ‘Broadway Limited’ crewed by 2LT Harold B. Majure (Pilot), Sgt. Douglas Croot, RAAF (Co-Pilot), T/Sgt. Clifford D. Stephens (Radio), and Sgt. Jack J. Deonier (Engineer). Passengers were COL Quinn, CPT Harland C. Andrews (126TH Inf. and MI National Guard), PVT Stanley C. Davis, (126TH Inf. and MI National Guard), PVT Kenneth W. Horrocks (126TH Inf. and MI National Guard). All of the crew and passengers were KIA. The wreck was located later the same day by Soldiers of the 126TH Inf. and the remains of all 8 servicemen were recovered. Chaplain Stephen Dzienis, from Wyandotte, Michigan, officiated at the funeral for those who were killed. Chaplain Dzienis was marching over the Owen Stanleys with the 2D Bn., 126TH Inf.
The website PacificWrecks.com has additional information about the crash of ‘Broadway Limited’.
COL Quinn was succeeded in command of the 126TH by LTC Clarence M. Tomlinson of the 3D Battalion, MAJ George C. Bond then became CO of 3D Bn. CPT Andrews was succeeded by CPT Harry C. Menclewski (126TH Inf. and MI National Guard). [updated 19 May ‘12]
On 3 November 2000 a visitor to this web site, G. L. Thoman, offered this information, and his permission to include it here, about the fateful air drop: “The primary reason Col. Quinn was on the fatal air drop flight was that he was curious about how the air drops would work with parachutes. My father Capt. Kenneth R. Thoman was the supply officer of the 126th and had been flying on the air drops. They crammed in as many drops as daylight would permit. I think this was one of the first attempts at resupply from the air. The troops on the ground would clear a drop zone and the C-47 would come in at tree top level. On a signal from the co-pilot my father and three of his men would push the cargo out of the door. Hoping it would hit the drop zone and still be usable without parachutes. On the first day they used cargo chutes my dad and his men had the C-47 loaded. Col. Quinn drove up to the plane and told Capt. Thoman to stay back and he would handle the drop. The Col. wanted to see how the new chutes would work. On the first pass the chute opened inside the aircraft and fouled the elevators. The whole crew was lost. It was curiosity that cost the Colonel his life and saved my fathers.”
On 10 November, the C-47 ‘Flying Dutchman’, with a crew of three, took off from 5-Mile Drome (a.k.a. Ward’s Drome) at Port Moresby to haul supplies and 20 personnel of the 126TH Inf. over the Owen Stanley Mountains to Pongani. At approximately 1330 hours, in heavy rain and extremely limited visibility, it crashed into the side of Mount Obree, at an elevation of approximately 9,000 feet. Seven personnel were killed in the crash and another eight were seriously injured. Between the impact and subsequent fire, almost all of the food and supplies were destroyed. [added 1 Mar. ‘13]
Knowing that their situation was dire and that the crash site was extremely isolated and would be difficult to spot, four survivors set out for help two days after the crash. On 15 November, the four healthiest of the remaining men set out in a different direction. All of the eight Soldiers who remained at the crash were wounded, most of them seriously, only one of them was physically able to fetch water and scrounge for food. Of the eight men who set out for help, six made it back to civilization in early and mid-December. [added 1 Mar. ‘13]
Due to several unfortunate circumstances, in spite of several search attempts, the wreck was not located until July of 1944. The eight remaining crash survivors had succumbed to their injuries, shortage of food, and the harsh environment. The crash site was revisited in 1961 (1967) during a search for another aircraft that had disappeared in the area. That is when an incredible discovery was made, the ‘door diary’. One of the survivors had started a journal on the day of the crash, he wrote it in pencil on the plane’s lavatory door. It is an interesting, valuable, and ultimately forlorn timeline of the experiences of the survivors as they held out hope for a rescue that sadly never came. The last entry was written on 1 Jan. ’43. [added 1 Mar. ‘13]
One of the men seriously injured in the crash was Chaplain (CPT) Theodore W. Barron, from Wenatchee, Washington, and assigned to the 126TH Infantry. He died from his injuries ca. 29 Dec. ‘42 and is interred at the Honolulu Memorial, Honolulu, HI. [added 1 Mar. ‘13]
Much additional information about the ‘Flying Dutchman’ can be found at the National Museum of the Air Force and PacificWrecks.com. Both sites have photographs and transcripts of the ‘door diary’. The former also has photographs of the wreck. The latter has a roster of the personnel aboard and more detailed information about the specific aircraft. [added 1 Mar. ‘13]
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
of the 107TH Medical Battalion, 32D Division, boarding
plane at Ward’s Drome (a.k.a. 5-Mile Drome), near
Meanwhile on 14 November 1942, the 127TH Infantry, plus some attachments, began embarking in Brisbane for shipment to Port Moresby.
Soldiers of the 127TH Infantry, 32D Division preparing to board ship on Brett’s Pier, Brisbane, Australia on 11 Nov. 1942.
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
boarding the U.S.S. George Taylor in
HQ Co., 32D Division conducting exercises aboard the U.S.S. George Taylor enroute from Brisbane, Australia to Port Moresby, New Guinea, in the early morning of 18 Nov. 1942.
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo from National Archives & Records Administration
Soldiers of the 127TH Infantry, 32D Division doing a rifle inspection aboard the U.S.S. George Taylor enroute from Brisbane, Australia to Port Moresby, New Guinea, on 18 Nov. 1942.
On 20 November 1942 the 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry Regiment arrived at Soputa. The exhausting struggle over the Owen Stanley Mountains was over, but the fight for Buna still lay ahead.
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