The 32D 'Red Arrow' Veteran Association

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The 32D Infantry Division

in World War II

The ‘Red Arrow’

Papuan Campaign - The Battle of Sanananda

 

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Papuan Campaign - The Battle of Sanananda

Generals MacArthur and Blamey had returned to Australia; General Herring moved up to command of the New Guinea Force with headquarters at Port Moresby and General Eichelberger now became commander of the Advanced New Guinea Force.

“Although the 32d Division had some beach defense responsibilities in the Buna area, only the 127th Infantry was now actively engaged in offensive action. The driving back of Lt. Chagnon’s detachment had made prompt action necessary to meet the threat of a Japanese attack from the west. COL Grose got two companies – G and F – across Siwori Creek on the morning of 5 January. By 0900 they began moving westward with Company G on the Right and Company F in the difficult swamp area on the left. Later, Company E was added to the force, and the advance continued against considerable resistance. (Blakeley 119)

 

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Soldiers of Co. B, 114TH Engineer Battalion, 32D Division, with the help of natives, build a roadway from Simemi to the bridge between the old and new Buna air strip, New Guinea, on 7 January 1943.

On 8 January, they arrived at Tarakena. The village was taken by nightfall, with the help of Companies A and C. The companies were down to about eighty men each, and they had received little rest since the capture of Buna, but LG Eichelberger says they were in good spirits when he visited them just before the attack on the village. The leadership of Lieutenant James T. Coker (CO of Company F) won him the DSC [Distinguished Service Cross] and a posthumous award of the DSC also went to Staff Sergeant Herman T. Shaw, commanding the leading platoon of the company. (Blakeley 119)

1LT Coker, from Durant, Oklahoma, was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 8 Jan. ’43. He had been awarded the Silver Star for his actions 25 Dec. '42 near Buna, New Guinea. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

SSG Shaw, from Waxahachie, Texas, and assigned to Co. F, 127TH Inf., was posthumously bestowed with the DSC for his actions between 25 December 1942 and 8 January 1943. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 1 Jan. ‘13]

CPT Donald F. Runnoe, commander of 1ST Battalion, 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for his direct participation and leadership during the capture of Tarakena on 8 January. He had been the Bn. Cdr. for only about a week, he was bestowed with the Distinguished Service Cross for his first day on the job on 2 January at Buna. More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients and the roster of Silver Star recipients.

SGT George A. Heck earned the Silver Star for his actions on 8 January near Tarakena. He was from Burney, Indiana, but he entered service 25 Apr. '41 at Detroit, Michigan. More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 10 Apr. ‘13]
 

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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Natives evacuate
an Allied casualty at Sanananda.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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Soldiers bring ammunition to the front lines at Sanananda.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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32D Division Soldiers advance on Sanananda.

SSG Alfred C. Hardrath, from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and assigned to Company E, 127TH Infantry, earned the Silver Star for his actions on 10 January near Tarakena. He was a PVT in Co. E, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Manitowoc, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40; he served overseas in the Pacific from '42 to '45. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 26 Dec. ‘12]

“The attack provided added evidence of the courage and initiative of the Red Arrow men. The Army's Victory in Papua tells the story:

    “The village in hand, the next step was to cross Konombi Creek, a tidal stream about forty feet across. A suspension bridge over the creek was badly damaged, and attempts on 9 January to cross it were met by fire from hidden emplacements on the opposite shore. Colonel Grose's plan was therefore to flank the enemy positions by sending an element of Company C across the creek that night in the two available boats. The company commander, 1st Lieutenant Tally D. Fulmer, was put in charge of the crossing.
    “The troops embarked at 0240 on the 10th. The swift current started taking the boats out to sea, but the danger was perceived in time, and the men reached shore before any harm was done.
    “There was only one thing left to do: secure a guy wire to the opposite shore. Two volunteers, S/Sgt. Robert [George] Thompson of Company C and Pfc. Jack K. Cunningham of Company E swam across the creek in the dark and, just before daylight, had a wire in place on the other side. It broke when the leading boat caught on a sandbar, and the crossing had to be made in daylight.
    “In late afternoon Sergeant Thompson again swam the creek, followed this time by four volunteers from Company C - Pfc. Raymond Milby and Pvts. Raymond R. Judd, Marvin M. [Peterson (his name was misspelled ‘Petersen’ in Blakely)], and Lawrence F. Sprague. To cover the crossing, Lieutenant Fraser of Company E emplaced his mortars and his 37-mm gun on the east bank of the creek. As the men began swimming across, armed only with pistols and hand grenades, Fraser and his weapons crews engaged the enemy on the opposite shore with fire. The enemy replied in kind, but Fraser and his men held their position along the river bank, and all five men got safely across the creek.
    “By 1740 the wire was in place, and Lieutenant Fulmer and a platoon of Company C began crossing. The boat made the trip safely covered with fire from Lieutenant Fraser's mortars and 37-mm gun, which quickly reduced the enemy [emplacements] commanding the bridge. Thereafter the crossing went swiftly. Company C was across by 1755, followed closely by Company A. By evening the two companies, disposed in depth, held a 200 foot bridgehead on the other side of the creek.” (qtd. in Blakeley 119-22)

“Lieutenants Fraser and Fulmer, Sergeant Thompson and Privates [Cunningham,] Milby, Judd, Peterson and Sprague, were all later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. (Blakeley 122) Some information about them is listed below and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients.

 

 

1LT Fraser, from Georgia, was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 11 January.

 

1LT Fulmer, from South Carolina, was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 31 December and 11 January.

 

SSG Thompson, from Grants Pass, Oregon, was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 11 January near Tarakena. He had volunteered to serve with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during Spanish Civil War, where he was twice WIA. He enlisted in U.S. Army shortly before Pearl Harbor. [added 13 Dec. ‘12]

 

PFC Cunningham was from Texas and was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 11 January. [added 18 Dec. ‘12]

 

PFC Milby was from Kentucky and was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 12 January. [added 28 Dec. ‘12]

 

PVT Judd was from Ohio and was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 12 January. [added 20 Dec. ‘12]

 

PVT Peterson was from Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, and was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 12 January. He was a Wisconsin National Guard Soldier in Co. C, 127TH Inf. in Oconto, Wisconsin, when the 32D Division was activated on 15 October 1940. He later earned the Silver Star and was KIA near Aitape, New Guinea on 27 Jul. ’44. [added 23 Dec. ’12, updated 18 Dec. ‘13]

 

PVT Sprague was from Ohio and was bestowed with the DSC for his actions on 12 January. [added 1 Jan. ‘13]


 

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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32D Division soldiers cross a log bridge at Sanananda. 

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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32D Division soldiers trudging through mud at Sanananda.

COL Joseph S. Bradley, from South Carolina and assigned to Div. HQ, was awarded the OLC to the Silver Star for his actions near Tarakena, New Guinea, on 11 Jan. 1943. He had previously been awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross during the Battle for Buna. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

CPL Jean F. Behrendt, from Kimberly, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. D, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 11 Jan. ’43 near Tarakena. He was a member of Co. D, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Appleton, WI, when the 32D Div. was mobilized on 15 Oct. ’40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 26 Dec. ‘12]

PFC Francis A. Bocian, from Chicago, Illinois, earned the Silver Star for his actions from 19 December 1942 to 11 January 1943 from the near Buna to Tarakena, New Guinea. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 18 Feb. ‘13]

General Eichelberger now halted this advance. They would hold up until the Allied advance on the left could put more pressure on the Sanananda Point area.

At the same time, the Japanese leaders decided to abandon the Sanananda area. The Allies did not discover this until several days later.

On 14 January, LG Eichelberger placed “the colorful Merle Howe (qtd. in Blakeley 122) - as he called him - in command of the 127TH Infantry. COL Howe had been the Division G-3. LG Eichelberger regarded COL Howe, a Michigan National Guard officer, as “a stalwart fighting man. (qtd. in Blakeley 122) COL Howe’s XO was newly promoted LTC Boerem.

“The time had now come for an all-out push. The 127th had to fight its way both south and west through what Colonel Howe called in a telephone message to the Division's chief of staff, ‘a swamp that stinks like hell (qtd. in Blakeley 125).’ The weather had, however, miraculously changed for the better, but the advance was slow at first. As the enemy’s resistance crumbled, the attackers pressed the Japanese hard, and Girua Village was captured almost without opposition on 21 January. Some mopping up the next day ended the 32d Division’s active operations in Papua. (Blakeley 125)

LTC Merle H. Howe, from Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and commander of the 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 16 January near Tarakena. He had previously earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 5 December near Buna Village. More information about him and his medals can be found on the roster of DSC recipients or the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 23 Jan. ‘13]

SGT Carl J. Patrinos, from Waukesha, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. G, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his actions on 17 January at Sanananda Point. He was a PVT in Co. G, 127TH Inf. Wisconsin National Guard at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. One of the people who recommended him for the Silver Star was Australian artillery officer who was with him that day. He was commissioned as 2LT by the time Co. G was later in action along the Villa Verde Trail on Luzon. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 17 Dec. ‘12]

PFC Jack C. Moore, from Powell, Wyoming, and assigned to the 32D Div., earned the Silver Star for his actions as a medic on 19 January near Giruwa. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 19 Apr. ‘13]

“NEW” photo added 5 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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U.S. Soldiers creeping along the beach near the mouth of the Giruwa River on 21 January 1943. It is likely that they are from the 127TH Inf.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Soldiers of Co. A, 127TH Infantry, 32D Division, crossing a Japanese-made footbridge on Giruwa Island on 22 January 1943.

   

 “The cost had been great. There is always the possibility of minor error in the casualty figures for a campaign conducted under the conditions which obtained throughout the Papuan campaign, but the Department of the Army's official totals can be accepted as sufficiently accurate to establish the final statistics for the cost of death and suffering.
    “The 32d Division had 690 officers and men killed in action or died of wounds, 1,680 wounded and 62 missing in action. In addition, 17 died of battlefield injuries and 287 others had to be evacuated because of battlefield injuries. Viewed in cold-blooded comparison with battle casualties of some divisions in other theaters, these losses were relatively low. What makes the achievements of the Division noteworthy from the statistical point of view is its continued progress during this period in spite of 7,125 nonbattle casualties and the fact that many men who remained on duty were actually sick. COL Warmenhoven, the Division surgeon, had the temperatures of 675 men taken shortly before the end of the campaign. These men were from all three combat teams and the check was made to get a picture of the health of the whole Division. The results showed that 53 percent of the group were running temperatures between 99 and 104.6 degrees. Malaria was the principle cause. (Malaria was also difficult to cure and, in spite of the best medical efforts 2,334 officers and men had to be dropped from the strength of the Division in September 1943 as unfit for combat.)
    “The 32d Division never had more than 11,000 officers and men in the combat area. The total casualties nearly equal this number. The hardest hit regiment - the 126th Infantry - entered combat with 131 officers and 3,040 enlisted men; it had 32 officers and 579 men for duty at the end of the campaign.” (Blakeley 125)
 

    “It would be presumptuous to attempt to sit in judgment on the controversial aspects of the 32d Infantry Division's part in the Papuan campaign. It does seem permissible, however, to consider some of the factors that affected the Division's difficulties and successes.
    “The factors of national unpreparedness, of climate, of lack of jungle training, and of the impossibility of providing adequate artillery support, have already been mentioned. The value of artillery supporting fires in reducing casualties and giving confidence to the infantry should perhaps be especially emphasized. The inadequacy of the artillery support throughout the campaign certainly contributed to casualties and to attack failures. To furnish prompt and effective fire on targets, the artillery must have good communications, mobility to get its guns to suitable firing positions, good platforms (that is, solid ground) for the guns in those positions, and adequate ammunition supply. Because of the terrain and the dampness, communications in Papua were almost impossible to maintain. Guns of big-enough caliber to be effective on the Japanese defensive positions require trucks or tractors for movement, suitable roads and open spaces of firm ground for positions. With a few exceptions, such conditions did not exist in Papua. It was impossible to get adequate ammunition forward for the single 105-mm howitzer that did reach the front. Rations and medical supplies necessarily had precedence over artillery ammunition.
    “The campaign could never have been conducted without the Air Forces’ logistical support, and interference with the enemy’s supply routes. The repeated failures to deliver effective tactical support to the ground forces - and often to erroneously attack them - has to be charged to aircrew inexperience, the nature of the country, and particularly to the lack of air-ground communication. The latter had simply not been developed, either in terms of equipment or method, to a point where it worked under difficult conditions.
    “A particularly controversial aspect of the campaign centers around three related factors: the interference of senior commanders, and sometimes of their staff officers, in the operations of lower units sometimes several command echelons below them; the international quality of the chain of command; and finally, the continued and extensive mixing of combat units. The common factor in these matters seems to have been the constant pressure of, first, the situation as it existed, and second, of General MacArthur himself. When there was failure, these pressures resulted in senior officers jumping in directly in an attempt to get results. Similarly, expedience, rather than logical organization for combat, dictated the assignment of units to tasks. The results were often bad. On the other hand is the argument that to delay for a more normal set-up might have been disastrous.
    “On the positive side, the campaign, like the traditional “school of hard knocks” in civilian life, had been an intensely practical training period for the Division. Bitter and costly though it had been, the survivors had learned much about combat in jungles, about Japanese defensive methods, and about the importance of sanitation, weapons maintenance, discipline and teamwork.” (Blakeley 125-6)

Every American unit that followed the 32D Division into the jungles of the Pacific would benefit from these difficult experiences and lessons learned.

Years later, General Eichelberger wrote in his book:

    “Buna was the first Allied Ground Force victory in the Pacific (the Buna Campaign was ended before the fall of Guadalcanal) and it was bought at a substantial price in deaths, wounds, disease, despair and human suffering. No one who fought there, however hard he tries, will ever forget it. I am a reasonably unimaginative man, but Buna is still to me, in retrospect, a nightmare. This long after, I can still remember every day and most of the nights as clearly as though they were days and nights last week.
    “Buna Village and Buna Mission are godforsaken little places on the inhospitable northern coast of New Guinea. A few score native huts and the coconut plantations around them represented, before the war, Buna’s sole claim on an indifferent world’s attention.” (qtd. in Blakeley, 53)


 

Table of Strengths and Casualties during the Battle of Buna-Sanananda

(Blakeley 127)

Regimental Combat Teams

Strength Entering Combat Zone

Killed in Action

Other Deaths

Wounded in Action

Sick in Action

Total Casualties

32D Infantry Division

126TH Infantry
127TH Infantry
128TH Infantry

3,791
2,734
3,300

266
182
138

39
32
29

816
561
557

2,285
2,813
2,238

3,406
3,588
2,962

Total

9,825

586

100

1,934

7,336

9,956

Next Section - Back to Australia - Rehabilitation and Training

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Bibliography (primary sources for historical information regarding the 32D ‘The Red Arrow’ Infantry Division’s exploits during World War II):

Blakeley, H. W., Major General, Retired.  The 32D Infantry Division in World War II.  The Thirty-second Infantry Division History Commission, State of Wisconsin, n.d.
Cannon, M. Hamlin.  Leyte: The Return to the PhilippinesU. S. Army Center of Military History, 1954.
Carlisle, John M.  Red Arrow Men: Stories About the 32nd Division on the Villa Verde.  Detroit: Arnold-Powers, Inc., 1945.

Drea, Edward J.  Defending the Driniumor: Covering Force Operations in New Guinea, 1944.  Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1984.

Drea, Edward J.  New Guinea - The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, n.d.
Hill, Jim Dan, Major General, Retired.  The Minute Man in Peace and War.  Harrisburg: The Stackpole Company, 1964.
Jungwirth, Clarence J.  Diary of a National Guardsman in World War II.  Oshkosh, WI: Poeschl Printing Company, 1991.
Mayo, Lida.  Bloody Buna.  Canberra, Australia: Australian National University Press, 1975.

Miller, John, Jr.  Cartwheel: The Reduction of Rabaul.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1959.

Milner, Samuel.  Victory in Papua.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1957.
Papuan Campaign - The Buna-Sanananda Operation.  Washington, D.C.: Historical Division, War Department, 1945.
The Red Arrow - 1955 - The 32D Division, Wisconsin National Guard.  n.p., 1955.
Smith, Herbert M., Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. Four Score and Ten: Happenings in the Life of Herbert M. Smith.  Eau Claire, WI: Heins Publications, 1995.

Smith, Herbert M., Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. Hannibal Had Elephants II.  Eau Claire, WI: Rev. William A. Heins, 1995.

Smith, Robert Ross.  The Approach to the Philippines.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1953.
Smith, Robert Ross. 
Triumph in the Philippines.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1963.

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revised 18 December 2013
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