Gaining Control of Seeadler Harbor

 

BY 5 MARCH THE BREWER TASK FORCE had accomplished its primary objective of securing a beachhead in the Admiralties. In addition to capturing Momote air strip, the task force had inflicted such serious casualties on the Japanese defenders that the three squadrons on the Los Negros perimeter, reinforced by the 12th Cavalry Regiment on 6 March, would be comparatively safe from an organized counterblow and could start offensive operations. Therefore, the next phase of the operation was directed west toward the other main objectives, Seeadler Harbor and Lorengau airdrome.

58

The first step toward these objectives was to gain control of the eastern side of Seeadler Harbor, formed by the Mokerang Peninsula as it curves west to make an acute angle with the north coast of Los Negros (Map No. 7, page 60). Holding this end of the harbor, the Brewer Task Force would have a base for easy shore-to-shore invasion against Lorengau. The most urgent task was to seize the Salami Plantation area, with its excellent beach on the west coast of the peninsula, already designated as Red Beach, landing spot for the 2d Brigade Combat Team scheduled to arrive the morning of 9 March. Next, the eastern harbor must be made safe, both for landings and for offensive movement, by neutralizing the areas where enemy garrisons and coastal guns could harass operations in the harbor.

59

MAP NO. 7 Expanding the Beachhead: Objectives

Advance North (5-7 March)

The units of the 1st Brigade already at Hyane Harbor, as well as those arriving on 6 March, would be used to clear the way for the 2d Brigade's landing at Red Beach. General Swift arrived to take command of the advance forces of the 1st Cavalry Division at 1100, 5 March, and at once ordered the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry, to move across the skidway to a point about 500 yards north (Map No. 8, page 62). The attack would be supported by the regimental weapons company of the 5th Cavalry, as well as by artillery. The men of the 2d Squadron were in high spirits because of their successful defense of the perimeter when first under fire the previous night.

60

The advance did not move out smoothly. The Japanese began harassing attacks at 1120 and followed these up an hour later with a strong attack from both Porlaka and the native skidway, just as the 7th Cavalry was being relieved from their defensive positions by the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry. The few Japanese who penetrated the position were killed, and the attack was broken up by mortar and artillery fire. Twenty-five dead Japanese were counted and twelve cavalrymen were wounded. The 2d Squadron was reorganized immediately and the advance moved out at 1630. Its progress was slow as the area was heavily mined. The mines, probably placed prior to the enemy attack, were so numerous that his advance and retirement through them must have been difficult. Although they caused some casualties to our troops initially, they were removed without further cost. Japanese dead from the furious counterattacks of 3 March still littered the road and the entire skidway area. At dark the 2d Squadron dug in on the skidway after an advance of 500 yards.

During the night there was little enemy activity, although trigger-happy soldiers along the skidway did a large amount of firing. Attempts at wire-tapping were made by the enemy. Once a voice over the wire pleaded, to the accompaniment of groaning and sighing, "For God's sake, lift that mortar fire." No action was taken since the speaker was unable to identify himself. Two Americans were killed during the night; the Japanese casualties were impossible to estimate because the bodies of their dead from previous action covered the area. in the morning bulldozers and burial parties buried the Japanese dead, some of the bulldozer operators wearing gas masks.

At 0820, 6 March, the 12th Cavalry with additional artillery, signal, and engineer troops as well as medical detachments began to disembark from four LST's at Hyane Harbor, bringing with them three light tanks and five amphibian tanks (known as buffaloes or LVT's, Landing Vehicles, Tracked). The 12th Cavalry, commanded by Col. John H. Stadler, Jr., was to join the attack along the Salami road around noon, following the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry, now attached to the 12th Cavalry, which would lead out first, with Troop E as advance guard. The 12th Cavalry was led to an assembly area in preparation for the attack, and the 271st Field Artillery went into position at the southeast end of the air strip with guns practically hub to hub.

At 1030 the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry, started north along the

61

MAP NO. 8 Expanding the Beachhead: Operations

62

road, which was hardly more than a trail and ankle-deep with mud. The route soon became congested with troops and mired vehicles. The Japanese had felled trees across the road to impede the advance, and these had to be removed. The engineer platoons, which accompanied the advance of the 12th Cavalry at noon, had a heavy task clearing the way to Salami. One angledozer built a road around a crater from a 500-pound bomb which it had been necessary to explode. Another dozer had gone forward to aid the advance column. Its crew disposed of crudely constructed booby traps, which the advance guard had side-stepped, and then went to work neutralizing a vehicle trap. This was a ditch about 4 feet deep camouflaged by canvas (stretched flush with the road) on a framework of poles and covered with coral sand. When this ditch was filled, both platoons made their way to where the front elements of the train were mired down. Here a narrow 150-yard fill had been breached at numerous points by bomb bursts. The engineers worked on this road for the next several days.

At noon Troop E was on the Salami road 2 miles northwest of the airdrome; it received orders to cover the northwest flank while the 12th Cavalry bypassed to the west, continuing the advance on Salami Plantation to the beaches of Seeadler Harbor. Occasional pillboxes occupied by one or two Japanese were encountered, but the enemy withdrew on contact. As the 12th Cavalry approached the beach, a few Japanese concealed in buildings and bunkers put up a fight that lasted an hour. Our tanks fired canister into the buildings at ranges up to 50 yards, and 75-min high explosives into the firing slits of the bunkers, which were so well camouflaged that it was often necessary to get within 30 yards. If the slit was not visible to the tank gunner but was to the troops near the tank, the cavalrymen would indicate its location by firing tracer bullets.

At 1630 the three squadrons closed into bivouac at Salami, minus all of their vehicles except three tanks; the rest had mired down 800 yards north of the skidway. All along the route the column had passed Japanese arms and equipment abandoned in hasty retreat. In the harbor area, large amounts of supplies and equipment were captured: gasoline, ammunition, radios, drafting equipment, charts, food, and propaganda pamphlets. The spoils also included buildings in good condition. The captured equipment belonged to the Japanese Iwakami Battalion which had defended the skidway area.

According to documents captured on Salami Plantation and later,

63

this battalion was decimated by 6 March. Six hundred men had been lost in the skidway area and in the attacks on the perimeter. The remaining 200, with an additional 100 stragglers from other disorganized units, were ordered to retreat through Salami (Red) Beach and across Papitalai Harbor to Papitalai Mission. Natives on Mokerang Peninsula later told the Angau Party that the Japanese retreat developed into a rout. They were panic-stricken; some did not even wait to take paddles for the native canoes that they had appropriated for their escape to Papitalai Mission. Not more than 80 Japanese, frantic from fear and exhaustion, arrived at the mission to bolster the force already there.

New Beachheads: Papitalai and Lombrum

The foothold on Seeadler Harbor won at Salami Beach on 6 March must be immediately expanded. Control of the western shores of Los Negros was essential to insure the safe landing of the 2d Brigade, due to arrive at Salami in three days. Our command thought that the Japanese who had abandoned Salami had probably crossed the harbor to Papitalai Mission and Lombrum Point, already held by enemy troops. Some of the enemy might remain on Mokerang Peninsula, which, along with Koruniat and Ndrilo Islands, was reported to be occupied by enemy forces with naval guns. These shore areas would be cleared of any possible enemy threat, and the islands investigated. The 5th Cavalry at Momote and the 12th Cavalry with the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry at Salami would both send forces over water to Seeadler Harbor's southeastern shore and drive out the enemy remaining there. The 12th Cavalry would also clear Mokerang Peninsula north of Salami and determine the situation on Ndrilo and Koruniat Islands.

The 5th Cavalry had begun the work of clearing the southern shore of Seeadler Harbor on 6 March by pushing patrols west from the air strip. The lack of opposition encountered in moving west bore out what the increased count of enemy dead and the abandoned equipment at Salami had indicated: the greater part of the enemy combat strength on Los Negros, if not throughout the Admiralties, had been dissipated. A patrol from Troop F was able to reconnoiter to Porlaka without encountering opposition, whereupon the entire troop established a bridgehead there, protected by the regimental antitank platoon and the mortar platoon of Troop H. Patrols from

64

the 1st Squadron moved south of their forward positions and worked through about a mile of territory south and southwest of the air strip along Porharmenemen Creek, capturing medical supplies, ammunition, and documents, as well as disposing of four snipers.

Having covered the ground to Porlaka, the 5th Cavalry's next mission was to cross Lemondrol Creek to Papitalai, while continuing to patrol south and west of the air strip. The 12th Cavalry with the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry, would simultaneously seize Papitalai Mission and Lombrum Plantation to anchor the defense of the eastern end of Seeadler Harbor. Although no enemy activity on Papitalai was reported from the command post at Porlaka, which had excellent observation on these points across Lemondrol Creek, some Japanese resistance was expected against the 5th Cavalry's shore-to-shore operation.

A reconnaissance patrol of 40 volunteers from Troop B, led by Capt. William C. Cornelius, moved across Lemondrol Creek at 1200 on 7 March. A 15-minute mortar and artillery concentration on the objective preceded the landing, and mortars, heavy machine guns, and antitank guns at Porlaka remained ready to support the patrol. Two waves, 45 minutes apart, were dispatched in canvas pneumatic boats, rubber boats, and engineer assault boats. The opposition at Papitalai was ineffective. An estimated 50 Japanese staged a heated skirmish and then withdrew. Captain Cornelius, leading the first wave, is reported to have killed single-handed 4 of the enemy with rifle fire and grenades while operating 50 yards in advance of the troops. Severely wounded, he died the next day; for his courage and leadership he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

The Reconnaissance Platoon held Papitalai while Troop F crossed the creek, using a captured Japanese barge as well as their own boats. Enemy rifle and mortar fire was directed at Papitalai and Porlaka through the night and next morning, but the enemy could not muster enough force to threaten our positions. One small enemy artillery piece caused some trouble for the troops at Porlaka until it was silenced by the mortars and antitank guns there. Our losses in the taking of Papitalai were three officers wounded, one officer and one enlisted man killed.

The 2d Squadron, 12th Cavalry, was designated as the force to take Papitalai Mission, the next promontory northwest of Papitalai. The move would start from Salami on 7 March. A shortage of supplies at Salami postponed until 8 March the attack upon Lombrum

65

Plantation, assigned to the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry. However, supplies for the 12th Cavalry's attack on Papitalai Mission were dropped from artillery liaison planes. Ammunition and water were also loaded on five buffaloes from the supply dumps located at Momote, and three of them arrived at Salami by 1300. Troop G of the 2d Squadron, 12th Cavalry, moved out across Seeadler Harbor shortly afterwards, transported on two buffaloes; the third had burned a clutch, but others arrived for use in shuttling the troops across the harbor. An air strike and a half hour bombardment by the 271st Field Artillery Battalion preceded the attack; fire on Papitalai Mission Point was well adjusted by the observer at Salami Beach.

The attacking squadron had to cross nearly a mile of open water, and each wave encountered enemy fire from mortars, machine guns, rifles, and one 75-mm howitzer. The first wave, a platoon of Troop G, led by 2d Lt. Alfred W. Prentice, landed in the face of fire from bunkers and native shacks and held alone for 45 minutes until the next wave landed. The advance elements later broke up a counterattack by about 30 Japanese. By nightfall, the rest of the troop landed and held a beachhead 50 yards inland and 150 yards in width. As night landings were impossible over the coral reefs, Troop G faced a dangerous period. However, direct support fires adjusted by an artillery liaison officer accompanying Troop G were brought down just 50 yards beyond the defense perimeter, and broke up three determined counterattacks during the night.

By morning the Japanese had pulled out from their beach defenses at Papitalai Mission. Patrols from Troop G were able to penetrate 1,000 yards south and southwest, although the Japanese subsequently reoccupied these areas. The remainder of the 2d Squadron, 12th Cavalry, arrived in the morning and occupied a perimeter 250 yards wide and 90 yards long. They encountered no resistance. The 2-d Squadron's casualties during the attack on Papitalai Mission up to noon of 8 March were 7 dead, 27 wounded or sick.

The enemy had put up more fight at Papitalai Mission than at Salami, Porlaka, or Papitalai, and to 8th Area Army Colonel Ezaki sent an account of the resistance at the Mission which was certainly keeping up a good front:

Fresh enemy troops initiated a landing at Sabukaleo (Papitalai Mission) by amphibious trucks under cover of terrific gunfire. Enemy strength is approximately 1,000 at present and is increasing. The Garrison Unit and the

66

Sabukateo Sector Unit are at present engaged in a terrific battle and the count of dead up to 1700 hours has been 100. However, morale is high. We are attacking with the spirit of fighting to the last man.

In a later message Ezaki admitted that the Americans had gained a foothold, but he promised an attack the night of 8 March to wipe out the new beachheads at Papitalai and Papitalai Mission:

The Sabukaleo Sector Unit carried out a night attack and did considerable damage, but the enemy successfully increased his strength with support of terrific bombardment and shelling; moreover, they have established a gun position by the water's edge at Papitalai and are advancing. Tonight the 8th, the Garrison Unit, together with the Sabukaleo Sector Unit, as well as a platoon of infantry will carry out a night attack against the enemy at Papitalai and Sabukaleo.

These night attacks did not develop. The perimeters at Papitalai and Papitalai Mission were undisturbed during the night and, significantly, the record of Ezaki's messages to 8th Area Army Headquarters ends at this date.

By 1200 on 8 March supplies for the 2d Squadron, 7th Cavalry's attack on Lombrum Plantation began arriving at Red Beach over the difficult road from Momote. More supplies were dropped from B-24's. The squadron was issued 2 days' rations, water, and ammunition and ordered to move across Seeadler Harbor and secure a beachhead on Lombrum Point. They were to be transported on LCM's (Landing Craft, Mechanized), towed to Hyane by the LST's on 2 March. H Hour was 1420. There was some sporadic fire as the troops hit the beach where two Japanese were killed, but by 1430 Troops E, F, and G had established a perimeter about 100 yards in depth. Patrols sent out immediately encountered no Japanese, and it was the opinion of the commander of the first wave that the Japanese had not occupied the area in strength for some time. By 1700 the perimeter was extended to take advantage of adjacent terrain, and all defensive installations were completed. Abandoned enemy equipment here-gas, oil, and bomb dumps-indicated further disintegration of the enemy strength on Los Negros.

The southeastern harbor area was now apparently secure, although Japanese hidden inland continued to keep the cavalrymen on the alert: on the morning of 10 March, a lieutenant of the 12th Cavalry was found dead near his fox hole. On the east shore of Seeadler Harbor the 12th Cavalry was fulfilling its mission of securing

67

Mokerang Peninsula to cover the north flank of the 2d Brigade's landing. On 7 March three light tanks were sent to reconnoiter Mokerang point. The patrol killed a few Japanese and saw a number of pillboxes in the Mokerang area, but encountered no enemy in strength.

Supply Problems

Equipping the 12th Cavalry and the 2d Squadron, 7th. Cavalry, at Salami with enough supplies to carry on their overwater attacks was a difficult and hazardous operation. The single road from Momote to Salami was impassable for most vehicles during the days when the supplies were most urgently needed. Buffaloes got through by going overwater part of the way, but the rest of the essential supplies had to be dropped from airplanes or sent in LCM's from Momote around Mokerang Peninsula. The sending of LCM's into Seeadler Harbor was an operation which was possible only after continued naval efforts from D Day on. Magnetic mines, dropped from our

68

own planes in May 1943, were presumably still in the harbor and had to be removed. To make entry into the harbor safe for our forces, destroyers also had to neutralize the Japanese harbor defense guns, which had already proved effective. The destroyers and minesweepers worked to accomplish these missions, but even by 7 March, when six LCM's loaded with supplies were to make their way around the point, it was not certain that enemy resistance on the islands guarding the harbor had completely disintegrated.

On D+2 the Mullany had accompanied two minesweepers within the harbor and had been fired upon from Hauwei Island with intense, accurate fire. The Mullany had then secured the assistance of the Warramunga, Bush, and Ammen in an attempt to knock out the batteries, and each had fired 70 rounds from 5-inch guns. Although the effectiveness of much of the fire had been hindered by rain squalls, it was assumed that the defenses had been silenced. On the next day, however, when the Mullany accompanied the minesweeper again, she was driven off by an estimated five 4-inch guns which were so well emplaced that they seemed not affected by the Mullany's return fire. At daybreak on the morning of 3 March the Mullany and the Ammen returned for the third time to bombard the shore battery but were met by intense fire which frequently straddled the ships.. At this time it seemed to the destroyers that the Japanese had even stronger defenses than had previously been encountered, since guns opened up from positions which had been unobserved before. However, the enemy was evidently conserving ammunition, as he would not fire when the destroyers were some 10,000 yards away. Accordingly, the two destroyers stationed themselves beyond this range and undertook slow and deliberate bombardment.

On 4 March cruisers of Task Force 74 bombarded the positions on Hauwei Island with undetermined results. On 5 March the Nicholson approached the same positions in an attempt to draw fire, but the Japanese opened up only when the Nicholson got within 850 yards of the island. The enemy guns registered one hit that rendered useless a 5-inch gun, killed three men, and wounded two. Nevertheless, the Nicholson reported that she put out of commission the gun that fired on her. She was subsequently credited with destroying two enemy guns and determining Japanese shore strength and gun positions, thus making possible the selection of suitable landing points in Seeadler Harbor out of range of hostile gunfire.

69

Air power was also employed against the enemy's harbor defenses. On 7 March seven B-24's bombed Hauwei and Ndrilo and the next day 17 heavy bombers and 11 mediums got through to bomb and strafe these islands and other targets.

The job of neutralizing the enemy on the islands outposting the harbor had been done so well that expected opposition against the LCM's did not materialize. On 8 March six LCM's loaded with supplies with two destroyers and two minesweepers entered the harbor without drawing any fire. The destroyers bombarded Koruniat and Ndrilo Islands to be sure that the 2d Brigade would land safely on Red Beach the next day.

As a last preparation for the 2d Brigade, the 12th Cavalry, less the second squadron, moved 200 yards south of Salami Beach on the morning of 9 March to protect the right flank of the landing, which was to take place early in the afternoon. To assist in covering the north flank, three light tanks were again sent to Mokerang point, while patrols were sent north and east. These patrols had only light contact with the enemy. They killed two Japanese and destroyed a Japanese telephone line, but the small number of enemy encountered in the area indicated that the 2d Brigade would have a safe landing.

[70]

Landing of the 2d Brigade

Targets of the naval preparation for the 2d Brigade landing were on Manus Island. The outlying islands had been given a thorough pounding and it seemed that any threat from coastal guns would come from Manus. From the convoy escorting the six LST's and the Liberty ship bringing the 2d Brigade to Salami, destroyers were detached to bombard enemy positions. The Long, covered by the Wilkes and the Swanson, swept the vicinity of Lorengau, and all three ships took under fire the jetty and what appeared to be light gun emplacements.

At 1300 the 2d Brigade Combat Team, a force of 4,000 men, began to disembark from LST's and the Liberty ship in Seeadler Harbor. The combat team, commanded by Brig. Gen. Verne D. Mudge, included the 8th Cavalry, the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry, the 61st Field Artillery Battalion, two antiaircraft batteries, a troop of engineers, a medical squadron, and a clearing company as well as a surgical hospital and signal, ordnance, quartermaster, and labor troops. The first mission of the 2d Brigade was to wipe out the isolated groups of enemy still bothering our troops on Los Negros in the Salami area.

One group of Japanese had been located by the natives of Mokerang Village and reported to the Angau party. The Australians had been hospitably received by the two native chiefs in official and ceremonial regalia, which had been hidden from the Japanese. As the Japanese had forced them to labor for small recompense and had stolen their furniture and canoes, the natives were delighted that the Americans had come. They furnished guides to show a Japanese hideout to a combat patrol of Troop F, 8th Cavalry, which was assigned the mission of mopping up the group. The patrol, led by an Angau man and native police boy guides, stalked the enemy, who was holding out in native shacks in a stretch of jungle between Salami and Mokerang plantations. The patrol surrounded the Japanese and killed with small-arms fire all 15 hiding there. The 8th Cavalry's first casualties in action were one killed and two wounded.

This small action stimulated the imaginations of troops holding a jungle area for the first time against an unknown number of enemy. Infiltration had been carefully explained to the cavalrymen and they expected a fight. Under an overcast sky with an occasional flurry of rain, troopers constantly "saw" or "heard" Japanese in the palm trees and in the undergrowth, and all night long the plantation echoed to

71

[72]

73

the burst of grenades and the spasmodic firing of small arms. Soldiers in shallow fox holes were sprayed with earth and grenade fragments. At dawn a careful search revealed not one dead Japanese or any sign of the enemy, but a few Americans had been wounded in what the soldiers called the "fire fight."

Although the debarkation of the 2d Brigade occurred under better circumstances than had been anticipated and all vehicles were unloaded on to the beaches in a few minutes, some miscalculations caused difficulties. The engineer equipment had been loaded well in the rear of the LST's and consequently was taken off last. The vehicles which were landed first soon made the wet roads a sea of mud, and all traffic was at a standstill. According to the report of Troop C, 8th Engineers:

It was practically impossible to get engineer equipment forward to the "bottlenecks" and many hours were wasted in hacking out new routes. At dark that night many vehicles were still mired in the mud, and work continued the following day clearing the roads. A route for a new road was selected, roped off, and work started cutting corduroy. This proved to be a tedious, backbreaking job, as the only available materials were coconut logs, 8 to 12 inches in diameter, and too heavy to handle by manpower alone. But with the aid of winch trucks, bulldozers, and manpower, logs were placed, sand hauled in with dump trucks, and carryalls, and on 12 March traffic was moving in all areas.

The engineers were aided in their first, most urgent job of getting the roads cleared up by a platoon of a quartermaster depot company, which arrived on 10 March. An amphibious truck company and other service elements also came ashore to handle the increasing influx of supplies necessary for further military operations and for the scheduled construction activities. The obstacles of jungle terrain, on the one hand, and insufficient water transportation on the other made even the routine job of keeping the troops armed, clothed, and fed a tremendous task. After finishing its first job on road repairs, the quartermaster depot company began to unload the Liberty ship Etamin, using roller conveyors without which the job would have been impossible with the limited number of troops available. The amphibious truck company unloaded supplies on its 16 dukws.

More medical units and supplies came ashore. The medical detachments serving the reconnaissance force had been hampered because of scanty protection afforded by the flat terrain. In the first days when casualties were high, they were also severely handicapped in

74

facilities, stripped to the barest necessities because of the nature of the operation. When bulldozers arrived on 2 March it had been possible to build revetments around the hospital tents, and the overcrowding was alleviated a little by transporting the seriously wounded to destroyers bound for the Sixth Army Headquarters. A collecting troop and a platoon from a clearing troop arrived on D+2 and were on hand for the big attacks on 3/4 March. However, the strain on the small medical units continued until a section of the 58th Evacuation Hospital landed in Hyane Harbor on 6 March. In expectation of further operations, it was decided that more medical facilities were needed, so the 27th Portable Surgical Hospital, the 603d Medical Clearing Company, and the 1st Medical Squadron (less detachments) landed at Salami with the 2d Brigade, and by 15 March the surgical hospital was installed and functioning.

The Momote air strip, prize of the Los Negros fighting, had been cleared and leveled for use a week after the initial landing at White Beach. A damaged B-25 was the first airplane to land on the strip on 6 March. Eight Kittyhawks of the 76th Fighter Squadron landed on the 4,000-foot strip on 9 March. The repaired strip had an alert area 600 feet long, and 6 dispersal bays.

Gaining and securing this objective had cost the 1st Brigade 116 dead, 434 wounded. These sacrifices had not only gained the objective; American forces had exacted about 11 times their own losses in killed from the enemy. The enemy dead on 8 March had reached 1,288, with no prisoners taken. The possibility of any large-scale organized resistance on Los Negros had been removed. Our next objective would be Lorengau airdrome on Manus, assigned to the 2d Brigade. Operating from a firm base on eastern Seeadler Harbor, the 2d Brigade would face little of the grave risk that accompanied the landing of the 1st Brigade in Hyane Harbor.

75


page created 28 June 2001


Return to Table of Contents

Return to CMH Online