The 32D 'Red Arrow' Veteran Association

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The 32D Infantry Division

in World War II

The ‘Red Arrow’

New Guinea Campaign - Aitape and the Driniumor River

 

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New Guinea Campaign - Aitape and the Driniumor River

Hollandia, in Netherlands New Guinea and approximately 450 miles west of Saidor, was Gen. MacArthur's next objective for his return to the Philippines. The Hollandia area was a large, important Japanese air and supply base; however its ground defenses were relatively light. At that time it did not need to be heavily defended because it was so far behind the Japanese front lines. If the Allies were able to seize Hollandia it would accomplish three important tasks. First, it would deny the Japanese the use of their own bases. Second, it would allow the Allies to establish their own valuable air and supply bases. Third, it would allow the Allies to bypass and isolate the formidable Japanese garrison around Wewak, between Saidor and Aitape.

In order to capture Hollandia, Gen. MacArthur would need strong air support. However, Hollandia was beyond the range of land-based aircraft. The Navy, which was preparing for large scale operations in the Marianas, would only commit to 3 days of carrier support at Hollandia. So the decision was made to seize the Japanese airstrip near Aitape, about 140 miles east of Hollandia, in order to provide land-based air support after the aircraft carriers were withdrawn. Allied ground forces at Aitape would also be able to protect the Hollandia assault units from interference by the Japanese forces at Wewak.

    “The ground operations at both Hollandia and Aitape were to be undertaken by a force designated as Alamo Force, commanded by Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, also commander of U.S. Sixth Army. Two task forces, designated Reckless and Persecution, were set up to take Hollandia and Aitape respectively. The commander of Persecution Task Force was to be Brigadier General Jens A. Doe, assistant Division commander of the 41ST Infantry Division, with the 163D Infantry Regiment of that division as his principal unit.
    “Initially, the plan provided that the 127TH Infantry reinforced, was to be the Alamo Force reserve for the Hollandia-Aitape operation. But General Krueger carefully considered the Japanese capability of making a determined effort to recapture the Aitape area by a strong counterattack with some part of the 50,000 to 60,000 Japanese 18th Army troops stationed in the Wewak area less than 100 miles away. And then he decided to use the 127TH as part of Persecution Task Force, and not as reserve. This required the obtaining of a new reserve from General MacArthur. After some discussion, the 32D Division, less two regimental combat teams, was given to Krueger as Alamo Force reserve. The two RCTs not in this reserve were the 127TH, and 128TH which was to remain in the Saidor area.
    “The Japanese strength at Aitape was believed to be about 3,500, including 1,500 combat troops. But it was also thought that by the time of the attack the Japanese might have 3,000 more at hand.” (Blakeley 149-150)

 

The Approach to the Philippines, the U.S. Army's official account, provides this description of the terrain and Japanese disposition at Aitape:

 

    “Aitape had been occupied by the enemy in December 1942- The entire region is a coastal plain, varying from 5 to 12 miles in width, swampy in many places and cut by numerous streams. The only prominent terrain feature on the coast is a small hill at Aitape. There are no natural eastern or western boundaries in the area. To the north lies the Pacific Ocean, and south of the coastal plain rise the foothills of the Torricelli Mountains. Off shore, about 8 miles east of Aitape, are four small islands. Good landing beaches exist throughout the region, the best a few miles east of Aitape. The absence of suitable terrain features makes difficult the defense of the area against amphibious assault. The many rivers vary greatly in width and depth according to the amount of rainfall.
    “April marks the end of the wettest season in the Aitape region, where rainfall averages about 100 inches per year. Though June is one of the driest months, July is one of the wettest, with almost 8 inches of rain. Torrential tropical downpours rather than prolonged rains are to be expected at Aitape.
     “Japanese development in the area centered around airfield construction near Tadji Plantation, about 8 miles east-southeast of Aitape . . . Intelligence reports indicated that the Japanese ground defenses in the Aitape area were weak. It therefore seemed probable that there would be little opposition to a landing and that the assault force, once ashore, could quickly seize the air strip area.” (qtd. in Blakeley 150)

 

15 April 1944 was initially planned as D-day for both the Hollandia and Aitape landings; however it was pushed back to 22 April.

 

photo added 12 Dec. 12

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Map depicting the location of Hollandia and Aitape on New Guinea, from U.S. Army Center of Military History brochure ‘New Guinea’.

On 18 April Persecution Task Force departed from the Finschhafen area.

On 22 April at 0645 the 163D Infantry landed as scheduled. However, due to poor visibility, they missed their designated landing area, Blue Beach at Korako. They did not miss it by much, only by about 1,200 yards. The misstep turned out to be advantageous for them, the beach at Wapil, where they actually landed, turned out to be a better site for beaching LSTs than at Korako. “The naval gunfire support and the air attacks were carried out according to plan. Such tactical surprise was achieved, that the landings were almost without opposition. By dark, the force had established a beachhead and started work on the airfield.” (Blakeley 150)

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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The 1st wave goes ashore at Aitape, New Guinea on 22 April 1944. These Soldiers are likely from 163D Inf., the 32D Div. didn't start landing until the next day.

photo added 30 May ‘11

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Troops of Persecution Task Force hitting the beach at Aitape, Dutch New Guinea, on 22 April 1944. These are likely troops from the 163D RCT, the first troops from the 32D Division landed the next day.

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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M-4 ‘Sherman’ tanks during the drive toward the airstrip on the first day ashore, 22 April 1944. These tanks are likely from 603D Tank Company, 1ST Cavalry Division, which supported the Aitape landings.

 

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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A Japanese POW is questioned at Aitape. It is possible that this is one of the three prisoners captured the first day, 22 April 1944.

 

On 23 April the majority of the 127TH Infantry and the 126TH Field Artillery Battalion landed at the beachhead. “Companies F and G captured two of the offshore islands [Tumleo and Seleo] with little difficulty early the same morning, and Company G occupied a third [Ali] two days later.” (Blakeley 153)

SSG Lyle F. Schane, from Waukesha, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. G, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the capture of Ali Island, off Blue Beach, on 25 April. The decoration was bestowed posthumously because he was KIA while leading and rallying his patrol when it was attacked on 25 April. He was a PVT in Co. G, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Oconomowoc, WI when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 16 Dec. ‘13]

On 26 April the 127TH Infantry's 1ST Battalion came ashore.

The 127TH Infantry took up positions on the left flank of the beachhead and sent patrols eastward to the Driniumor River.

On 28 April, the 127TH Infantry’s Co. C, and part of Co. D, established an outpost in the vicinity of Nyaparake, on the coast 20 miles to the east, in order to be able to detect enemy movement toward Aitape from Wewak.

photo added 30 May ‘11

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Troops unloading supplies at Aitape.

photo added 30 May ‘11

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Tadji fighter strip near Aitape ca. 28 April 1944. The aircraft may be P-40s from No. 78 Wing of the Royal Australian Air Force which arrived on 24-25 April 1944.

    “In the end, the enemy garrison of the whole Aitape area turned out to be less than 1,000 men of all arms and services. And most of them had fled inland. This relatively easy victory at Aitape paralleled an almost equally rapid success at Hollandia. And this brought two decisions affecting the 32D Division. General Doe and his 163 D RCT were to be pulled out of the Aitape operation and used in a new assault in the Wakde-Sarmi area about 250 miles further northwest. General Gill was to take over from General Doe as GC of Persecution Task Force, and additional 32D Division troops were to be brought in.” (Blakeley 153)

CPT James T. Coker, from Durant, Oklahoma and commander of Co. F, 127TH Inf., was declared MIA, presumed KIA, along the Driniumor River on 3 May 1944. He had been awarded the Silver Star for his actions 25 Dec. '42 near Buna, New Guinea; bestowed with DSC for his actions on 8 Jan. '43 near Tarakena, New Guinea; also earned Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery.

The Approach to the Philippines details these changes:

     “The 32D Infantry Division, less two regiments, was to move from Saidor in eastern New Guinea to Aitape to relieve the 163D RCT. The 127TH RCT of the 32D Division had already arrived at Aitape. Initially, the 128TH RCT was to remain at Saidor as part of the Alamo Force reserve for Wakde-Sarmi. The remainder of the 32D Division, consisting of the 126TH RCT and division troops, arrived at Blue Beach (this was the main beach in the Aitape area) on 4 May. Major General William H. Gill, the division commander, immediately assumed command of the Persecution Task Force and two days later his division staff, after becoming acquainted with the situation in the Aitape area, began activity as Headquarters, Persecution Task Force.
     “Just before the Wakde-Sarmi operation began, it was decided to move the 128TH Infantry from Saidor to Aitape so that the unit would be closer to its potential objective in case of need. Noncombat ships being available, the 128TH Infantry (less the 3D Battalion) was shipped to Blue Beach where it arrived on 15 May. The rest of the regiment, together with rear echelons of other 32D Division units, arrived at Aitape later in the month. Early in June the 128TH Infantry was released from its Alamo Force reserve role for Wakdi-Sarmi and reverted to the control of the 32D Division and the Persecution Task Force.” (qtd. in Blakeley 153)

 

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Troops of the 32D Infantry Division march off the beach at Korake, Aitape, New Guinea to their bivouac area on 3 May 1944.

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Troops (likely 32D Div.) ford a river as they move inland near Aitape, New Guinea, in spring or summer of 1944.

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Soldiers from the 107TH Medical Battalion, 32D Division, move up to the front at Aitape, New Guinea, in spring or summer 1944.

 

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Soldiers of the 128TH Infantry move up to the front along the beach near Aitape, New Guinea (probably ca. 15 May '44 when the 128TH started landing at Aitape).

 


On 10 May 1944, the 121ST Field Artillery Battalion, commanded by LTC Arthur E. Solem, was detached from the 32D Division and attached to the 41ST 'Jungleer' Infantry Division to support the invasion of Biak.

    “From the first, the East Sector was the most active one. Colonel Merle H. Howe, CO of the 127TH Infantry, took command of the sector on 6 May. On the 7th, the Nyaparake Force (Company C, reinforced, of the 127TH Infantry, under CPT Tally D. Fulmer) started patrols to the east and inland. Reinforced on the 8th by a rifle platoon and a light-machine gun section from Company A, and aided by Seventh Fleet patrol craft and RAAF P-40s, CPT Fulmer pushed the bulk of his force eastward against increasing enemy opposition. On the night of 13-14 May, three attacks struck his small command. The rest of Company A, under CPT Herman Bottcher, who had won the DSC and battlefield promotion from Sergeant during the Papuan campaign, had also been moved eastward along the coast. On the 14th, Captain Fulmer’s force was surrounded and Captain Bottcher’s force harassed by strong patrols. There was obviously no point in sacrificing these troops. Their reinforcement and supply was not practicable, nor was the retention of their positions essential to the Division’s principal mission of defending Tadji airfield. So General Gill promptly decided to evacuate both detachments to Nyaparake by small craft. This was done the next day.” (Blakeley 154)

On 19 May, Gen. Gill placed BG Clarence Martin (assistant Division commander), in charge of the East Sector and made CPT Bottcher commander of Nyaparake Force, which was comprised of Co. A, 127TH Infantry and the 32D Reconnaissance Troop after Co. C was relieved from the force.

On 22 May CPT Bottcher's force encountered a strong Japanese attack and initiated a planned withdrawal to the west. Several times during the next few days Nyaparake Force became cut off and had to fight its way out of encirclement. Gen. Gill, believing that the enemy was making a determined effort toward the airfield at Tadji, started to shift the 126TH Infantry's 1ST Battalion from the Western Sector to BG Martin's Eastern Sector where it could be used to counterattack the Japanese westward advance.

On 27 May fifteen Soldiers from the 126TH Inf. executed a daring and dangerous seaborne patrol far behind the Japanese lines east of the Driniumor River. Aerial reconnaissance had revealed that the Japanese had built a road from Wewak to their main positions near Aitape. The U.S. patrol was sent to determine the quantities of supplies the Japanese were able to bring forward on the new road. The 15 Soldiers boarded a small boat the night of 27 May in the Aitape area. They headed east along the coast to a point far beyond the Driniumor, there they transferred to two rubber assault boats and paddled quietly to shore. After completing their reconnaissance they headed back to their boats, but their route was blocked by a 15-man Japanese patrol. Each U.S. Soldier picked an enemy soldier and they leapt out to simultaneously and silently kill 14 of the enemy with their knives. The 15th Japanese soldier was bound and gagged to be brought back as a prisoner. They paddled back out to sea, linked up with the boat, and returned to Aitape. All fifteen patrol members earned the Silver Star for their audacious boldness. They are named below and more information about them and their medals can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

Lt. Albert P. Pollick, from Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in leading the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. He had entered active service as an enlisted Soldier on 17 Feb. 41 with the Pennsylvania National Guard at Pottstown, PA. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

SSG Donald E. Reed, from Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania, and assigned to HQ Co., 2D Bn., 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

SGT Lauren (Lauron) A. Brown, from Bailey, Michigan, and assigned to Co. G, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. He marched across the Owen Stanley Mountains and fought at Buna. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

SGT Francis K. Goode, from Swannanoa, North Carolina, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. He entered the service on 2 Feb. 42 at Ft. Jackson, SC. He received a battlefield commission to 2LT sometime after Aitape. He was later KIA on 27 Apr. ’45 along the Villa Verde Trail on Luzon, Philippines. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

SGT Francis E. Lisovitch (Lisovich), from Sharon, Pennsylvania, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. He was later promoted to SSG. He was KIA on 9 Dec. '44 on Leyte, Philippines. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

SGT James R. McCune (McCue), from Dorr, Michigan, and assigned to Co. H, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. He was a PVT in Co. H, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Ionia, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. He later earned the Oak Leaf Cluster to his Silver Star, date and circumstances currently unknown. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

SGT Wesley L. Smith, from Los Angeles, California, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

PFC Earl H. Vannetten (Van Netten), from Muskegon Heights, Michigan, and assigned to Co. G, 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. He was a PVT in Co. G, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Muskegon, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

PVT Joseph J. Figueroa, from Oakland, California, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

PVT Chelsea B. Hamilton, from Lomita, California, and assigned to 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. He was later promoted to SSG. He became MIA, and was later declared KIA, on 23 Nov. '44 on Leyte, Philippines. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

PVT Edward H. Henson (Hensen), from Chicago, Illinois, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

PVT Leonard E. Pruett, from Bluefield, West Virginia, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

PVT Robert E. Stohler, from Portland, Oregon, and assigned to 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

PVT Walter A. Wolff (Wolfe), from Detroit, Michigan, and assigned to 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

PVT Frederick G. Wright, from Oconto, Wisconsin, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., earned the Silver Star for his role in the daring patrol east of the Driniumor River on 27 May. He was a PVT in Co. C, 127TH Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Oconto, WI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

On 30 May, all available U.S and Australian service members in the area participated in a Memorial Day ceremony at the new cemetery at the beachhead.

On 31 May LTC Cladie A. Bailey's 1ST Battalion, 126TH Infantry, encountered serious opposition east of the village of Yakamul. The next day he was ordered to return to Yakamul and send patrols inland along the Harech River to the foothills of the Torricelli Mountains, a distance of about 5 miles. At the same time, CPT Bottcher's units were relieved by Co. G, 127TH Infantry and Battery B, 126TH Field Artillery, approximately 2 miles to the west of Yakamul. “The experiences of LTC Bailey’s Battalion in the next few days are well told in the Approach to the Philippines, and the account is reproduced here because it gives a rather typical picture of a 32D Infantry Battalion both seeking information and imposing delay on a Japanese advance.” (Blakeley 155)

     “During the night of 1-2 June, Japanese artillery shelled the Battalion command post and enemy patrols drove in outposts which had been set up east of Yakamul. The next morning the Battalion was divided into two parts. At Yakamul was stationed Company A, Headquarters Company, and part of Company D. This combined group, numbering about 350 men, was put under the command of Captain Gile A. Herrick of Company A and designated Herrick Force. The rest of the Battalion, now called Bailey Force, moved south down the trail from Yakamul to patrol the Harech River.
     “The Japanese soon became very active around the perimeter of Herrick Force. On 3 June the enemy launched a series of minor attacks against Company A, which was separated from the rest of Herrick Force by a small, unbridged stream about four feet deep and varying in width from ten to fifty yards. Under cover of these attacks, other Japanese groups bypassed Herrick Force to the south and on the next morning appeared west of Yakamul, between Herrick Force and the two-mile distant perimeter of Company G, 127TH Infantry.
     “Sporadic small arms fire, intensifying during the afternoon, was directed at all parts of Herrick Force perimeter during 4 June. About 1640 this fire was augmented by mortar and artillery shells, a development which seemed to presage an imminent Japanese infantry attack. At 1830 an enemy force of more than Company strength surged out of the jungle on the southeast side of the American perimeter in an apparent attempt to drive a wedge between Company A and the rest of Herrick Force. The attack was halted by automatic weapons fire and the barrier presented by the small stream. The enemy then turned northeast from the creek against Company A. Simultaneously, a small group of enemy attacked west along the beach.
     “Because Company A was in danger of being surrounded, Captain Herrick ordered the unit to withdraw across the small stream to Yakamul. Since the Japanese had the stream covered with small arms and at least one well-concealed machine gun, the withdrawal was a slow process and consumed over an hour. During the movement the Japanese continued to attack, and, toward the end of the hour, succeeded in overrunning some of Company A’s automatic-weapons positions. Deprived of this support, most of the remaining troops retreated rapidly across the stream, leaving behind radios, mortars, machine guns and twenty to twenty-five dead and wounded men. Most of the wounded managed to get across the stream after darkness, which was approaching at the time of the enemy’s final attack.
     “By 1940 the Japanese were in complete possession of the Company A position, whence they could send flanking fire toward the Yakamul perimeter. Captain Herrick ordered his men to dig in deeply. He reorganized his positions and even put some of the lightly wounded on defensive posts. Japanese ground attacks kept up until 2200, and sporadic bursts of mortar, grenade, and machine gun fire continued throughout the night.
     “When he learned of the situation at Yakamul, General Martin ordered Bailey Force to return to the coast and relieve Herrick Force. Radio communication difficulties prevented delivery of this order until 2000 and it was 2200 before Colonel Bailey could organize his force in the darkness and heavy jungle and start it moving north. By that time the Japanese had a strong force blocking the trail to Yakamul. After an arduous overland march through trackless, heavily jungled terrain, the leading elements of Bailey Force began straggling into Company G’s perimeter about 1130 on 5 June.
     “Gen. Martin then ordered Bailey Force to move east and drive the Japanese from the Yakamul area, but this order was changed when the East Sector commander learned that Bailey Force had been marching for over thirteen hours on empty stomachs and was not yet completely assembled at Company G’s perimeter. Bailey Force was thereupon fed from Company G’s  limited food supply and sent west along the coastal trail to the Driniumor River. Company G and the battery of the 126TH Field Artillery Battalion which it had been protecting moved back to the Driniumor late in the afternoon.
     “Meanwhile, the evacuation of Herrick Force from Yakamul had also been ordered, and about 1115 on 5 June small boats arrived at Yakamul from Blue Beach to take the beleaguered troops back to the Tadji area. Insofar as time permitted, radios, ammunition and heavy weapons for which there was no room on the boats were destroyed. As this work was under way, a few light mortars and light machine guns kept up a steady fire on the Japanese who, now surrounding the entire perimeter, had been harassing Herrick Force since dawn. At the last possible moment, just when it seemed the Japanese were about to launch a final infantry assault, Captain Herrick ordered his men to make for the small boats on the run. The move was covered by friendly rocket and machine gun fire from an LCM standing off shore, while the Japanese took the running men under fire from the old Company A positions. So fast and well organized was the sudden race for the boats, that the Japanese had no time to get all their weapons into action, and only one American was wounded during the boarding. The small craft hurriedly left the area and took Herrick Force to Blue Beach, where the unit was re-equipped. By 1500 the troops had rejoined the rest of the 1ST Battalion, 126TH Infantry, on the Driniumor River.” (qtd. in Blakeley 155-157)

“The Battalion’s losses during the whole operation were 18 killed, 75 wounded, 8 missing.” (Blakeley 157)

   
    “During the same period, the 1ST Battalion, 127TH Infantry, had also been in action against a small enemy force which had crossed the Driniumor River about five miles upstream from the coast. During the next few days the Battalion made ineffectual attempts to drive the enemy troops (estimated strength less than 100 men) from a low ridge northwest of Afua. Colonel Howe, the 127TH's commander, was evidently not impressed by the way this operation was going. On the
5th [June], he radioed the Battalion commander: “This is the third day of maneuvering to drive the enemy off that ridge. So far today we have had no report of enemy firing a shot and we are not sure they are even there. I have been besieged with questions as to why we don’t fight the enemy. Unless we can report some accomplishment today I have no alibis to offer. Push either Fulmer or Sawyer in there until they draw fire.” Fulmer and Sawyer were the commanders of Companies C and B. And when these companies did go forward to the ridge they found that the enemy had withdrawn during the night.” (Blakeley 157-8)

 

By 10 June 1944, after the arrival of the 128TH Infantry RCT, Gen. Gill's defense of Tadji airfield consisted of the 126TH Infantry RCT on the west, the 128TH in the center, and the 127TH on the east. Patrols were sent 10 miles inland and both an outpost and a main line of resistance were established. This was the first time that the Division was employed as a single unit since September 1942.

It was deemed necessary to establish a delaying position on the west side of the Driniumor. Although the river varied in width from 75-150 yards in this area, it was not a formidable obstacle because it was usually only about calf-deep, except after heavy rains. Thick jungle vegetation on both banks made it extremely difficult to detect movement on the other side. This delaying position was comprised of the 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry on the left, one company from the 126TH Infantry in the center, and the 1ST Battalion, 127TH Infantry on the right. If the Japanese attacked, these soldiers were to hold this line as long as they could. Then, if necessary, they were to withdraw westward and establish successive delay positions until they were pushed back to the main defensive position around the airfield.

These units continued to patrol the east side of the Driniumor in an effort to keep track of the enemy’s disposition, and they met more and more opposition. It was becoming increasingly evident to higher headquarters that the Japanese were likely preparing for a significant attack against Persecution Force, either to attempt to retake the airfield, or to simply tie up as many Allied units as possible in order to prevent their use elsewhere in the region.

As a result, reinforcements for Persecution Task Force began to arrive. At midnight on 27-28 June, newly arrived MG Charles P. Hall and his XI Corps staff assumed command of the growing Persecution Force. MG Hall soon reorganized his available units into 3 main elements, Western Sector, Eastern Sector, and Covering Force. Most of the newly arrived reinforcements were assigned to Western Sector. Gen. Gill and the 32D Division were responsible for Eastern Sector. Gen. Martin controlled Covering Force, which was comprised of the 32D Division elements he already controlled, plus the 112TH Cavalry RCT, a non-divisional unit commanded by BG Julian W. Cunningham. While it was assigned to Covering Force, the strength of 112TH Cavalry was only about half of the strength of an infantry regiment.

Gen. Hall also continued to make improvements to the main defensive positions protecting the airfield. “Hall enclosed the vital airstrips with a semicircular, ten-mile, defensive belt whose flanks rested on the sea. Along this line were more than 1,500 mutually protective log bunkers. Barbed wire obstacles and entanglements girded the line. Within that perimeter stood the equivalent of two divisions, including nine infantry Battalions. Fifteen miles east, however, only three infantry Battalions and two understrength cavalry squadrons defended the Driniumor River line. They had little barbed wire, few bunkers, poor fields of fire, and miserable jungle tracks for communication.” (Drea 27)

By the end of June, Covering Force consisted of 3D Battalion, 127TH Infantry (which had recently relieved the 127TH Infantry’s 1ST Battalion), and 2D Squadron, 112TH Cavalry on the right; 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, in the center; and 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry, and Co. B, 632D Tank Destroyer Battalion, on the left. The 120TH and 129TH Field Artillery Battalions were positioned to provide artillery support.

    “But when the expected attack did not develop, patrols from the Covering Force could not locate any large enemy forces in the vicinity. So General Krueger then ordered General Hall to send a reconnaissance in force east from the Driniumor to find out what the enemy’s dispositions really were. It was surely undesirable to keep Allied troops urgently needed for other operations tied up at Aitape if the Japanese 18th Army had no offensive intentions.” (Blakeley 160)

Gen. Martin was tasked with the reconnaissance mission, but he was not supplied more units to perform it. This left him in a difficult position. He would have to release a sizable number of the limited troops he had available to conduct the reconnaissance, but he would also have to maintain his defensive line along the Driniumor in case the Japanese were able to sneak past his reconnaissance units in the thick jungle. This meant that the troops left to maintain the delay position would be spread very thin.

photo added 30 Jun. ‘11

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Map depicting the situation along the Driniumor River on 10 July 1944.

Early on 10 July the 2D Squadron, 112TH Cavalry and 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry, crossed the Driniumor to conduct the reconnaissance. The Cavalry troopers on the right faced a difficult move through the swamp but encountered no Japanese. The Infantry soldiers on the left near the coast had less difficult terrain to contend with, but they met significant enemy opposition. Aided by good artillery support they nearly reached Yakamul, but they suffered 5 KIA and 8 WIA during the day.

Back at the delay position the 1ST Squadron, 112TH Cavalry was now responsible to hold a front of 3,000 yards on the right end of the line. The 3D Battalion, 127TH Infantry was spread out for 1 1/2 miles in the center sector. The 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry was responsible for the remainder of the line on the left, stretching nearly 3 1/2 miles to the coast. Patrols were sent out all along the line throughout the day, and all of them made contact with the Japanese. The line was told to be prepared for an attack that night and the units conducting the reconnaissance were told to continue pushing east the next morning.

    “Shortly before midnight, after a short artillery preparation, which came as a surprise because no enemy artillery had been identified within range of the Driniumor, [10,000] enemy infantry in screaming waves began charging across the river against Companies E and G 128TH Infantry, in the south part of the sector of the 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry.” (Blakeley 160)

photo added 30 Jun. ‘11

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Map depicting the Japanese attack along the Driniumor River the night of 10-11 July 1944.

The Japanese were severely punished by prepared artillery concentrations and well-placed machine gun and mortar fire from the vastly outnumbered and undermanned Covering Force.

    “GIs fired their machine guns and automatic rifles until the barrels turned red hot, but the Japanese, eerily visible under the light of the flares, surged forward. American artillery fell in clusters on the Japanese infantrymen, killing and maiming hundreds or crushing others beneath the tall trees that snapped apart in the unceasing explosions.” (Drea 28)

    “The attack in the Company G sector was stopped, but another attack which hit Company E shortly after the first assault was more successful largely because of the physical impossibility of holding a position in the dark against an attacking force believed to have a ten to one superiority over the defenders. By dawn the Japanese held a good-sized area of wooded high ground to the left rear of Company G.” (Blakeley 160-1)

    “Without a reserve and convinced that the fact of the attack made the reconnaissance missions no longer applicable, General Martin promptly asked and obtained permission to withdraw his two reconnaissance forces. His orders reached the 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry, at about 0135, it moved out from the defensive positions it had assumed for the night at 0200, and was back across the Driniumor by dawn. At 0700, it attacked south on Martin’s orders in an attempt to restore the situation in the 2D Battalion sector. Martin soon realized, however, that the whole picture as it developed after daylight indicated that it was an enemy capability to push westward toward the airfield almost unmolested. His mission was to delay just such a move, so he stopped the counterattack when it ran into strong opposition, and decided to withdraw his forces to the next delaying position [along the X-ray River] between two and three miles to the west.” (Blakeley 161)

The 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry, withdrew successfully but suffered 3 KIA, 3 MIA, and 13 WIA during the process.

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One of those KIA was SSG Gerald Leon Endl, of Co. C, 128TH Infantry, and from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. SSG Endl was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts to rescue several of his wounded comrades and to cover the withdrawal of his platoon on 11 July 1944. SSG Endl's Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site.

At around 1000 on 11 July 2D Squadron, 112TH Cavalry, made it back to the west side of the river and later in afternoon it moved further west to the next delaying position. The 3D Battalion, 127TH Infantry, withdrew to the 2nd delaying position in two groups; the first commanded by LTC Edward Bloch, the Battalion CO, the second group was commanded by CPT Leonard Lowry, of Co. I. The 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, withdrew as several smaller groups.

At dawn on 12 July Covering Force was again prepared to conduct their delay mission from their new positions along the X-ray River. However, CPT Lowry’s detachment didn’t arrive until 13 July due to the difficult terrain and continued enemy contact.

    “In the meantime, General Hall had begun making a series of changes designed to make possible a prompt counterattack against the enemy troops threatening his area. He put General Gill in command of the Covering Force, and General Martin in command of Eastern Sector. He attached the 124TH Infantry [31ST 'Dixie' Division] (less one Battalion) to the Covering Force.
    “Using part of the Headquarters, 32D Division, General Gill set up a new headquarters for the Covering Force, and reorganized the Covering Force into two groups. The North Force, commanded by Brigadier General Alexander N. Stark, Jr., who had been commanding Western Sector, consisted of the two Battalions of the 124TH Infantry, and the 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry. South Force, under General Cunningham, was composed of the 112TH Cavalry, and the 3D Battalion, 127TH Infantry. (The Army’s official history says that the South Force was also called Baldy Force – “a reference to the condition of Gen. Cunningham’s pate.”) The 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, was the Covering Force reserve. Four artillery batteries, including the 120TH and 129TH from the 32D Division, furnished the artillery support.

    “The North Force attack started at 0730 on 13 July. Aided by good artillery support, the 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry fought its way back to the Driniumor while the 124TH Infantry turned south and cleared the area along the river, a task completed with some difficulty. A Japanese attack on the 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, near Tiver, was repulsed, and except for minor remnants of the enemy forces the situation in the North Force sector was now restored.
    “South Force, separated from North Force by a swamp, moved eastward at 1000 on 13 July. Assisted by Australian air attacks, it reached the Driniumor about 1445. On the 14th, its efforts to establish contact with North Force were unsuccessful. During the night of 14-15 July, the enemy attempted to take advantage of this situation, but ran into the 3D Battalion, 124TH Infantry, and sustained heavy losses. It was not until 18 July that the gap was completely closed and Persecution’s Covering Force reestablished all along the Driniumor. There remained, however, a considerable number of enemy small forces in the area behind the positions along the river. To clear up this situation, General Hall released the 1ST and 2D Battalions of the 127TH Infantry to General Gill’s command. Of the nine organic infantry Battalions of the 32D Division, five were now under Gill’s tactical command; the other four (the three of the 126TH Infantry and the 3D Battalion of the 128TH) remained on the main defensive position around the airfield. All, of course, continued under his administrative control as Division commander.”
(Blakeley 163-4)

CPT George L. Celles, Jr., from New Orleans, Louisiana, and commander of Co. I, 124TH Inf., 31ST Div., was KIA near Aitape on 15 Jul. ’44 and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 19 Jul. ‘13]

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Photo from Home of Heroes.

2LT Dale Eldon Christensen, of Troop E, 112TH Cavalry, was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor for several examples of heroic leadership along the Driniumor River during 16-19 July 1944. On 16 July he crawled to within 15 yards of a Japanese machine gun position that had pinned down his unit and he silenced the machine gun with his grenades. On 19 July he successfully led his platoon in an attack to eliminate a Japanese position of 4 mortars and 10 machine guns. He eliminated one of the machine guns by himself with grenades after his rifle was shot out of his hands. 2LT Christensen was from Iowa. He was KIA on 4 August 1944 near Afua while leading his unit in an attack on another enemy machine gun position.

   

SSG Robert Shaw, from Detroit, Michigan, and assigned to the 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, bestowed posthumously, for his actions near Afua on 19 Jul. ’44. He was KIA while furnishing covering fire from an exposed position so another Soldier could rescue a wounded comrade. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 24 Dec. ‘13]

“The two Battalions assigned to the clean up task had several days and nights of involved patrolling and fighting complicated by lack of any definite information about the enemy’s strength and dispositions and by the difficult terrain, and also by communications failures. Movement of enemy troops along trails between South Force and the Torricelli Mountains was also reported, and South Force was subjected to several attacks culminating in the recapture of Afua by the Japanese. On the 22d, the two Battalions were attached to General Cunningham’s South Force. This put all of the 127TH Infantry in Cunningham’s command. The regimental commander, Colonel Howe, made a difficult trip with a small escort in order to report to Cunningham and arrange the movement of his two Battalions into the South Force area.

“Elements of both Battalions were committed to action almost as soon as they arrived. Afua changed hands several times, and South Force engaged in over a week of complicated fighting, made particularly difficult by the broken jungle-covered terrain, the lack of roads, the inaccurate maps, and the mixing of units. By the end of the month the force was in an oval shaped perimeter not over eight hundred yards deep at any point. The 2D Battalion, 127TH Infantry, was facing the river with its left flank bent backward; the 112TH Cavalry’s positions extended south and west; and the other two Battalions of the 127TH completed the perimeter on the west side.” (Blakeley 164)

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Discussing operations at the 32D Division command post at Aitape, New Guinea, are (from left to right): MG C. P. Hall, commander of task forces; MG William H. Gill, commander of 32D Division; and MG Leonard F. Wing, commander of 43D Division. This photo was probably taken ca. 22 Jul. 1944, about the day the 43D Div. began operating in the Aitape area.

 

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PVT Donald R. Lobaugh, from the 127TH Infantry, was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor for his conspicuous gallantry during the confused fighting around Afua on 22 July 1944. His platoon, led by Lt. John S. Kerlizyn, was surrounded by the Japanese. PVT Lobaugh suggested to his squad leader, SSG Edward L. Jirikowic, that he could keep the enemy preoccupied while the rest of the platoon escaped the encirclement. “Next thing,” the Sergeant said in telling the story of Lobaugh’s exploit, “I saw him crawling alone toward the enemy position. (qtd. in Blakeley 166) PVT Lobaugh was from Freeport, Pennsylvania. His Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site.

 

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Photo from Home of Heroes.

2LT George W. G. Boyce, Jr., of Troop A, 112TH Cavalry, was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor for his self-sacrifice during the fighting near Afua on 23 July 1944. While leading his platoon in an effort to rescue another unit which had been cut off, 2LT Boyce threw himself on an enemy grenade that had landed between him and his men. 2LT Boyce was from New York.

 

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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32D Division vehicles cross a pontoon bridge near the front lines at Aitape, New Guinea, on 27 July 1944.

SSG Marvin M. Peterson, from Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. C, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, bestowed posthumously, for his for his courage and leadership at an isolated outpost along the Driniumor River on 27 July. SSG Peterson was KIA while trying to save a comrade during a patrol later that day. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. He had earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a PVT near Tarakena, New Guinea on 12 Jan. ‘43. [added 18 Dec. ‘13]

SGT Roland C. Richards, from Oconto, Wisconsin, and assigned to Co. C, 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, bestowed posthumously, for his for his leadership during an enemy attack, after his squad leader was WIA, as well as for his attempt to rescue a wounded comrade on 27 July. SGT Richards was KIA during the event. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 17 Dec. ‘13]

2LT John N. Brewer, from Studio City, California, and assigned as communication officer for a battalion of the 127TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, posthumously, for his actions which enabled a cut off force to make it safely back to friendly lines on 29 July. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 18 Jul. ‘13]

    “The enemy forces engaged against South Force probably totaled between 2,500 and 3,000 men. South Force’s casualties between 13 and 31 July were 106 killed, 386 wounded, 18 missing, 426 evacuated because of illness. [South Force estimated that they had inflicted 700 Japanese casualties, given the number of Japanese casualties determined after the battle and after the war, this number was likely significantly higher.] The 112TH Cavalry Regiment was reduced to about the size of an infantry Battalion, and the 2D Battalion, 127TH Infantry, also had high losses.
    “Early on 1 August, the Japanese forces, now probably totaling some 4,000 men but in bad shape from starvation, exhaustion, and disease, launched a suicidal attack on the South Force position. Repeated assaults continued at intervals and at different locations for four days. They were poorly coordinated and unsuccessful.”
(Blakeley 166)

 

photo added 30 Jun. ‘11

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Map depicting the actions of Ted Force 31 July to 10 August 1944

photo added 30 Jun. ‘11

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Battery C, 129TH Field Artillery Battalion firing from the coast near Anamo in support of Ted Force.

photo added 30 Jun. ‘11

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Native litter bearers evacuate a casualty across the Driniumor River near Afua Village.

 

photo added 7 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Soldiers from 3D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, 32D Division, marching toward the front near Aitape, New Guinea, on 30 July 1944.

 

On 31 July Gen. Hall initiated a counterattack. At 0800 the 124TH Infantry, reinforced with a Battalion from the 169TH Infantry (43D ‘Winged Victory’ Division), crossed to the east side of the Driniumor. These 4 Battalions were organized as Ted Force, which was commanded by COL Edward ‘Ted’ M. Starr, Commander of the 124TH Infantry Regiment. Ted Force moved east and encountered varied enemy resistance, then they headed south to attempt to prevent any Japanese retreat, eliminate as many of them as possible, and prevent their reinforcement or resupply.

    “The Army's The Approach to the Philippines summarizes the operations of the four Battalions in these words: “While the envelopment was not as successful . . . as had been anticipated, or as it was thought to be at the time of its completion, the maneuver did force the [Japanese] 18th Army to accelerate its already planned withdrawal from the Driniumor.” In any case, the result was to relieve the pressure on South Force, and Cunningham promptly ordered an attack to clear the enemy remnants from his area. On 6 August the Force, which had been given two more Battalions of Infantry, one of which was the 3D Battalion of the 128TH began this task. It was completed by dark on the 9th. There was no longer any serious enemy threat to the Aitape area and its airfield.” (Blakeley 167)

On 11 August 1944 the 43D Infantry Division, primarily its 103D Infantry Regiment, began to relieve the 32D Division and assume the duties of Persecution Covering Force along the Driniumor River. As the units of the 32D Division were relieved, they moved back to Aitape and became part of Persecution Task Force Reserve.

The 112TH Cavalry reached Blue Beach on 11 August and was trucked back to Aitape.

“Before the cavalrymen reached the beach, where they would board trucks to ride to Aitape, Lieutenant Colonel Grant ordered his 1st Squadron to stop at a stream in order to wash and shave. Then they continued towards the beach. As they emerged from the jungle, the 112th Band began to play and the men fell into march order. After forty-five days on the line, many troopers had jungle ulcers on their hands and feet. Some had blood oozing from their boots. But they marched to their waiting trucks.” (Drea 131)

The 127TH Infantry was officially relieved on 13 August and the relief of the 128TH Infantry was completed on 16 August.

The battle for Aitape was officially completed as of 25 August 1944, the Japanese had retreated east back toward Wewak and no longer posed a serious threat. The airfield at Tadji was securely in Allied hands and Aitape could now be used for a staging area to support further operations.

    “During July and August 1944, nearly 10,000 Japanese perished. Almost 3,000 Americans fell along the Driniumor, 440 of them killed [2,550 were wounded and 10 were missing]. In terms of American casualties, it was MacArthur's most costly campaign since Buna.” (Drea 28)

    [General] Adachi's terrible defeat left [his] Eighteenth Army trapped between the Americans in the west and the Australians in the east. In mid-December 1944 Australian forces began a slow, determined drive from the east toward Wewak, which finally fell on 10 May 1945. Australian losses were 451 killed, 1,163 wounded, and 3 missing. Some 7,200 Japanese fell. Adachi then kept his approximately 13,000 survivors together in the hills and surrendered only in September 1945. Adachi himself was tried at Rabaul for war crimes, but beat the hangman by committing suicide in September 1947.” (Drea 29)

 

The 129TH Field Artillery Battalion was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for its part in the Campaign. This citation can be read on the Unit Citations page of this web site.

    “Among the command changes during August 1944 was the assignment of Colonel John A. Hettinger to the 128TH Infantry, succeeding Lt. Col. Herbert A. Smith, who had been in temporary command of the regiment.” (Blakeley 169)

Next Section - New Guinea Campaign - Biak

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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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