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The 32D Infantry Division

in World War II

The ‘Red Arrow’

New Guinea Campaign - Morotai


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New Guinea Campaign: Morotai

In the autumn of 1944, with the New Guinea Campaign nearly complete, it was time to prepare for the next phase of the war in the Southwest Pacific, the liberation of the Philippines. Initially, it was planned that Mindanao, about 650 miles north of New Guinea, would be the first invasion of the Philippines, scheduled for sometime in October. For large scale operations in the Philippines, it would be necessary to establish a new air and naval support base roughly halfway between the existing Allied bases in New Guinea and the next objective. Two choices were carefully considered, Halmahera Island and the island of Morotai.

Halmahera was the larger of the two, shaped like a crude K, it was about 170 miles long from north to south. Halmahera Island was a tempting choice, because it already had several operational airfields. However, this Japanese base was strongly defended, and would probably not be taken, and held, easily. At the time it was estimated that up to 31,000 Japanese troops might be present there, after the war it was learned that the actual enemy strength was about 37,000.

Morotai, only 12 miles from the northern tip of Halmahera, is an oval shaped island roughly 40 miles long by 25 miles wide. Although it did not have much in the way of existing facilities, it was deemed suitable for an air and light naval base. Plus, it was weakly held by the enemy.

When the choice was made, the decision was Morotai, the attack was scheduled for 15 September 1944. The attack on Mindanao was pushed back to 15 November.

    “The general picture [of Morotai], for veterans of fighting in New Guinea, was a familiar one – reefs off shore, narrow beaches, thick rain forests, rough and mountainous terrain inland. The one important difference from most of northern New Guinea was that there was considerable ground near the beaches that was relatively firm.” (Blakeley 171)


photo added 13 Dec. 12

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Map depicting the location of Morotai in relation to Halmahera and New Guinea, from U.S. Army Center of Military History brochure ‘New Guinea’.

The assault force, named Tradewind Task Force, was mostly comprised of the 31ST 'Dixie' Infantry Division plus the 126TH Regimental Combat Team of the 32D Division. MG Charles P. Hall, CO of XI Corps, would be the task force commander.

The 126TH RCT was assigned as the task force reserve and consisted of the 126TH Inf. Regiment, the 120TH FA BN, plus detachments from 32D Division engineer, quartermaster, ordnance, signal, medical and military police units.

The Naval component for the assault of Morotai consisted of about 105 warships, ranging in size from Escort Carriers to LCIs. Landing craft made up half of the force, but there were also 6 Escort Carriers, 6 Cruisers, 22 Destroyers, and 8 Destroyer Escorts.

The 126TH RCT boarded their ships at Aitape. The convoy departed at 1000 hours on 11 September. They arrived off Morotai at 0600 on 15 September. The USS Fletcher, just one of the 11 Destroyers tasked with providing Naval Gunfire Support for the assault elements, fired 679 rounds from its 5" guns from 0735 to 0750 in preparation for the landings at Red Beach near Pitoe Airstrip. Soon after, the initial assault elements from the 31ST Division landed, unopposed, on Morotai.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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LCI’s unloading assault forces offshore at Morotai on 15 September 1944.

photo added 13 Dec. 12

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Soldiers carrying ammunition and supplies to the beach on Morotai ca. September 1944.

On the morning of 16 September the 126TH RCT landed. Seeing as the 31ST Division easily handled the limited Japanese forces present on the island, the 126TH was tasked with establishing outposts and observation posts along the shoreline and on several smaller, surrounding islands.

The Japanese made numerous attempts to send troops to reinforce and attack Morotai from nearby Halmahera Island, but these attempts were not successful, due in large part to 41 PT-boats that rigorously patrolled around Morotai beginning on 16 September. The enemy's aerial attacks against Morotai were more successful, but not enough to effectively disrupt Allied operations.

    “Even as Morotai was being captured, a major change in Allied strategy not only increased the importance of its seizure but affected the plans for the future employment of the 32d Division. Interchanges of messages between General MacArthur, Admiral Halsey, Admiral Nimitz and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who were attending the Octagon Conference in Quebec) resulted in a decision to bypass Mindanao, Yap, and Talaud Islands, which had been scheduled as the next objectives, and to move directly against Leyte. The invasion of Leyte had been tentatively set for 20 December. It was now pushed forward two whole months to 20 October 1944.” (Blakeley 174)

As the 32D Division's participation in operations on New Guinea were drawing to a close, the following passage from New Guinea - The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II simply seems appropriate:
“Above all, New Guinea was the story of the courage of the GI who could always be counted on to move forward against a determined foe.  It was the ordinary American soldier who endured the worst deprivations that the debilitating New Guinea climate and terrain could offer.  It was the lowly GI who was the brains, the muscle, the blood, and the heart and soul of the great army that came of age in the Southwest Pacific Area in 1943 and 1944.  In one tough fight after another, he never lost a battle to the Japanese.  Those accomplishments and sacrifices are forever his and deserve to be remembered by all.” (Drea 31)

Next Section - Leyte Campaign

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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 Philippines.  U. 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 Guardn.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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