Supporting the Papua Campaign

The coast of New Guinea comes into view after a three-hour flight north over the Coral Sea from Townsville, Australia —the huge island stretching out below the air traveler "like a monstrous creature slumbering in the tepid equatorial sea."1 On the map New Guinea looks like a bird-shaped monster that is about to perch on a slender peninsula jutting up from the northern coast of Australia, the head looking toward the Philippines, the bony tail extending to a point south of the Solomon Islands. The tail, bearing the towering Owen Stanley Range, is the easternmost part of Australia's Territory of Papua. At the tip is a deep forked indentation, Milne Bay. About halfway down the under side of the tail is Port Moresby, the tiny copra port that Australians in 1942 called "the Tobruk of the Pacific."

Preparations were made in the summer of 1942 for dislodging the Japanese from Buna, on the northeast coast of Papua, and General MacArthur on 11 August 1942 designated Port Moresby—code name MAPLE —the U.S. Advanced Base. At the time, the defense force consisted mainly of Australians—a Royal Australian Air Force squadron and about 3,000 infantrymen sent up from Australia early in 1942 as a consequence of the Japanese occupation of Rabaul, Lae, and Salamaua. The Americans on the scene in August 1942 were air, antiaircraft, or service units. In late April 1942 two American fighter groups had been dispatched to relieve the weary RAAF units, and they were followed by an antiaircraft battalion, several Engineer units to improve the two existing airstrips and build new ones, and some Ordnance troops, including, by July, an Ordnance aviation (air base) company, the 703d, an 11-man detachment of the 25th Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company to service the antiaircraft guns, and detachments of two ammunition companies, the 59th and 55th.2 Along with the Australians, the Americans came under New Guinea Force (NGF), created in mid-April 1942 by General Sir Thomas Blarney, the Australian appointed by General MacArthur to command Allied Land Forces. At first New Guinea Force


was commanded by Maj. Gen. Basil Morris, head of the Australia-New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), the service that supplanted civil government in Papua when white residents were evacuated or called into military service. In mid-August New Guinea Force came under another Australian, Maj. Gen. Sydney F. Rowell, who was in command until 24 September, when General Blarney took over. General Blarney created Advance New Guinea Force and placed it under the command of Australian Lt. Gen. Edmund F. Herring.3

Rowell's New Guinea Force had been considerably augmented the third week in August by the arrival of elements of the 7th Australian Infantry Division, a unit called back to Australia from the Middle East and ordered by MacArthur to New Guinea after the Japanese landings near Buna in late July. Of the two brigades ordered to Port Moresby, one arrived 19 August and immediately began moving up the trail over the Owen Stanleys to reinforce the troops attempting to deny the trail to the Japanese advancing from Buna. Another brigade was landed on 21 August at Milne Bay where a force was being built up, including American engineer and antiaircraft troops, to improve and protect airfields.

The two Australian brigades of veterans from the Middle East arrived just in time. The Japanese, strongly reinforced at Buna from Rabaul, launched an offensive across the mountains toward Port Moresby on 26 August and at the same time landed a seaborne force, dispatched from Rabaul, at Milne Bay.

The Ordnance Officer Arrives at Port Moresby

A few days after this alarming development, the Ordnance officer of the new U.S. Advanced Base arrived at Port Moresby by air. He was Capt. Byrne C. Manson, selected by Colonel Holman for this important job because of his fine record as Ordnance officer of Base Section 4 at Melbourne. He was destined to pioneer in New Guinea as he had pioneered in Australia in the early days. On a morning in late August Manson arrived at Port Moresby, coming down at one of the airstrips on a dusty plain several miles inland. He rode in a jeep down arid brown hills to the waterfront, where corrugated iron roofs of stores and shipping offices were blazing in the sun, and everywhere Manson saw the effects of the Japanese air raids that had been battering the small port since February: broken windows in the empty bungalows in the hills and the stores along the harbor, bomb craters and slit trenches in the dirt roads that passed for streets.4

The most immediate Ordnance problem at Port Moresby was to increase the supply of ammunition. Bombers and fighters trying to stop the Japanese advance and cut off Japanese supplies at Buna depended on Ordnance dumps. Demands were heavy: in two days 35 tons of bombs and 33,000 rounds of ammunition were used up over Buna. Ammunition for American ground troops—chiefly antiaircraft units— was not as critical, but reserves had to be built up. Stocks of weapons and weapons


Photo:  Port Moresby, 1942


parts Manson found "so low and unbalanced as to be of no consequence." On his way north he had placed requisitions at Brisbane for a 90-day supply of maintenance spare parts and major item replacements and a 30-day supply of cleaning and preserving materials, all to be shipped immediately. Motor maintenance parts were sufficient for the moment, but more would have to be ordered from Brisbane because there were more vehicles at the base than had been estimated and larger reserves were desirable.5

The shortage of Ordnance personnel was reminiscent of the early days in Australia, when of necessity the men available did the work that had to be done, regardless of their specialties. Because Manson had no depot troops, he planned to use his antiaircraft maintenance detachment— nearing the end of its assigned task—as depot troops to receive and sort the expected shipments of supplies. A 72-man motor maintenance platoon, which came in by ship on 8 September but was unable to set up a shop because its tools and equipment were still en route, was put to work handling bombs and burning off areas around ammunition dumps. Because Papua was then in the midst of the dry season, the danger of fire was ever present. At the most important dump, the Central


Dump at Four-Mile Airdrome serving three airfields, some fire-fighting equipment was available, but it was primitive—barrels containing water, and burlap bags to use in smothering flames.6

On 15 September a grass fire spread to the Central Dump. The flames moved rapidly, sending up dense black clouds and detonating bombs and ammunition with thundering roars. Braving the intense heat and great danger, more than a score of Ordnance men attempted to extinguish the flames with wet burlap bags; failing, they tried to haul bombs and ammunition cases to safety, risking their lives. Despite their efforts, large quantities of bombs, fuzes, fins, and arming wires, as well as 155-mm., 37-mm., 20-mm., .50-caliber, and .45-caliber ammunition were lost.7 This loss of the ground ammunition was particularly unfortunate because it occurred on the very day the first U.S. combat troops arrived in New Guinea.

The Crisis in Mid-September

At the end of the first week in September the Japanese amphibious operation had been repulsed at Milne Bay but the Japanese overland forces had advanced far along the Kokoda Trail and were coming uncomfortably close to Port Moresby. The timely arrival of the third brigade of the 7th Australian Infantry Division on 9 September, however, and its prompt dispatch up the Kokoda Trail, gave reassurance that the Japanese attack would be stopped. In an effort to hasten the enemy's withdrawal by cutting in on his flank, MacArthur ordered to New Guinea the 126th Infantry of the U.S. 32d Infantry Division. The first men arrived by air on 15 September, their fatigues still wet from the green "jungle dye" applied the night before in Brisbane.

Meanwhile, the Australians continued to fall back before the Japanese onslaught down the Kokoda Trail. They believed that they could still contain the enemy, and assured GHQ in Australia that the best course was to withdraw to good defensive positions nearer their base on the coast. Yet at MacArthur's headquarters alarm mounted as the Japanese continued to advance. By 16 September the Japanese were at Ioribaiwa, only thirty-five miles north of Port Moresby. In the hills behind the port men were digging trenches and stringing barbed wire around "centers of resistance"; at the airfields, crewmen working on airplanes were wearing pistols. MacArthur decided to send the 32d Division's 128th Infantry to Port Moresby immediately. The entire regiment was transported by air between 18 and 23 September—the greatest mass movement of troops by the Air Forces up to that time.8

The threat to Port Moresby was soon over. In the last days of September the Australians, bringing up two 25-pounders


and blasting the position at Ioribaiwa, discovered that the Japanese had withdrawn. At the time it seemed that the enemy had found it impossible to bring up enough supplies over the Kokoda Trail, but, in fact, the withdrawal was closely tied in with Guadalcanal. Defeated there by the U.S. Marines on the night of 13-14 September, the Japanese had decided to subordinate the Papua venture to the retaking of Guadalcanal and to withdraw for the time being to their Buna beachhead.

To destroy the Japanese at Buna then became the most pressing task for the Allies. MacArthur planned a pincers movement. The Australians were to continue to advance over the Kokoda Trail, supplied by native carriers and airdrops. The Americans were to advance by two routes—one inland and one up the northern coast of Papua. The inland trail, the mountainous Kapa Kapa—Jaure track, was to be used by the 126th Infantry, the coastal plain south of Buna was to be the route of the 128th Infantry. The movement of the U.S. troops began in mid-October. As it turned out, only one battalion went over the difficult and precipitous Kapa Kapa-Jaure track. The discovery of adequate sites for airfields on or near the coast, notably at Wanigela—a little better than halfway between Milne Bay and Buna—made it possible to transport most of the Americans by air over the Owen Stanley Range to the north shore of Papua. How they were to be supplied after they got there was another matter.

The Sea Route to Buna

As General MacArthur acknowledged at the outset of the campaign to retake Buna, "the successful employment of any considerable number of troops on the north shore ... was entirely dependent upon lines of communication." The logisticians responsible for establishing effective lines of communication might well have been appalled by the task. The great mountain barrier ruled out an overland supply route. Supply by air would have to await the capture and development of airfields closer to the front; moreover, air transport at the time was being strained to the utmost to support, mostly by airdropping, the Australians on the Kokoda Trail and the Americans on the inland track. The only answer was supply by sea—an extremely hazardous undertaking. The shores between Milne Bay and Buna are washed by some of the most dangerous waters in the world, foul with coral reefs, for which no adequate charts then existed. On that primitive coast, piers or jetties could not be depended upon; the names on the map— Wanigela, Pongani, Mendaropu, Embogo, Hariko—do not indicate ports, but native villages consisting of a few thatched huts surrounded by coconut palms.

No landing craft of the kind that were later to make island-hopping feasible were then available to General MacArthur. He had to depend on small, shallow-draft fishing vessels that could navigate the reefs and approach close enough to the shore for supplies to be lightered through the breakers. For months the Small Ships Section of USASOS SWPA had been acquiring such craft from the Australians. Its so-called catboat flotilla could boast 36 at the beginning of July 1942: 19 trawlers, 4 harbor boats, 4 steamers, 2 speed boats, 2 ketches, 2 motorships, 1 cabin cruiser, 1 schooner,


Photo:  Part of the trawler fleet, Port Moresby


and 1 powered lighter. In early September the Small Ships men were establishing an operating base at Port Moresby from which their ships could carry ammunition up and down the southern coast of Papua, mainly from Port Moresby to Milne Bay. Plans for the attack on Buna made it necessary to extend this operation to the northern coast and to expand it considerably.9

The Coastal Shuttle

Rations and ammunition for the troops being flown over the Owen Stanley Range to Wanigela in mid-October were loaded on eight small trawlers at the Port Moresby dock on 11 October under the supervision of Lt. Col. Laurence A. McKenny, the 32d Division's quartermaster, who was responsible for getting the supplies forward. The trawlers carried in addition to their Australian or Filipino crews a detail from the 32d Division's Quartermaster company (the 107th), two or three men to a trawler,


and two Ordnance men from 32d Division headquarters, 1st Lt. John E. Harbert and Technician 3 William C. Featherstone. Getting under way next day, the two trawlers in the lead, the King John (with Colonel McKenny aboard) and the Timoshenko docked on 14 October at Milne Bay, a harbor that was very important in the plans for the coastal shuttle because it was to be the main transshipment point— the place from which supplies brought by freighters from Australia were to be carried forward in the small ships. At the head of the bay, where in peacetime Lever Brothers had operated one of the largest coconut plantations in the world, dock and port improvements were proceeding rapidly, in spite of swampy ground and mosquitoes that earned for Milne Bay the reputation of being a malarial pesthole. On the afternoon of 15 October the trawlers sailed for Wanigela with an important new passenger—1st Lt. Adam Bruce Fahnestock, head of the Small Ships Section, who had been, before the war, a well-known South Seas explorer.10

At Wanigela Colonel McKenny received something of a shock. Brig. Gen. Hanford MacNider, commander of the 32d Division's coastal task force, told him that some of the troops had had trouble trying to march overland and would have to be carried up the coast in the trawlers and landed at Pongani. About a hundred men of the 128th Infantry came aboard the two trawlers, divided almost evenly between them. The King John also took on a New York Times correspondent, Byron Darnton. Safely skirting the treacherous and uncharted reefs around Cape Nelson, with the aid of native guides stationed at the bows to spot the reefs, the two trawlers were preparing to land at Pongani on the morning of 18 October when a bomber (later determined to be an American 6-25) circled overhead and dropped bombs that killed Fahnestock and Darnton and wounded several men. The rations and ammunition were saved and carried ashore in the first landing on the coast behind the Buna front.

By early November the coastal operation had improved considerably. The Australians had charted the waters around Cape Nelson and found that larger vessels (100 to 120 tons) could negotiate the reefs around the cape. This discovery made it possible to bring sizable shipments to a transshipment point on the north shore of the cape, Porlock Harbor, where the trawlers took over. The larger boats, which were operated by the Combined Operational Service Command (COSC), a consolidation of Australian and U.S. supply services effected on 5 October 1942, brought in some Australian artillery—two 3.7-inch (94-mm.) pack howitzers (similar to the American 75-mm. howitzer) and four 25-pounder guns, of about 3.5-inch caliber, firing a shell weighing 25 pounds. These pieces were to be transported from Porlock Harbor up the coast in a motor-driven Japanese barge that had been left behind when the Japanese were repulsed at Milne Bay. By 16 November when the attack on Buna was scheduled to begin,


dumps had been established north of Pongani at Mendaropu, where Maj. Gen. Edwin F. Harding, commanding general of the 32d Division, had set up his command post, at Oro Bay, and at Embogo; an advance dump was planned for Hariko, where General MacNider was getting ready to jump off.

Disaster at Cape Sudest

Between 1700 and 1800 on 16 November, three small ships and the Japanese barge left Embogo for Hariko with the bulk of the supplies for MacNider's attack on Buna. The two-masted schooner Alacrity departed first, then the trawler Minnemura, followed by the barge; the trawler Bonwin brought up the rear. Though hostile planes had been reported up the coast, the little flotilla had no air cover—the American and Australian fighter planes had left for Port Moresby in order to get back to their bases before dark. Deck-mounted machine guns were the ships' only protection against aircraft.

Lieutenant Harbert, the Ordnance officer of the coastal force, was in charge of the Alacrity. Considerably larger than the Minnemura and the Bonwin, she carried all the reserve ammunition of the 128th Infantry's 1st and 2d Battalions, about 100 tons, and forty native Papuans to help offload the matérial into outrigger canoes and then transport it inland. The Alacrity also had the men and equipment of the 22d Portable Hospital and was towing a steel barge carrying ammunition and a reconnaissance platoon of the 126th Infantry. The Minnemura had aboard General Harding, on a visit to General MacNider's command post; Col. Herbert B. Laux, an Army Ground Forces observer; and an Australian war correspondent, Geoffrey Reading. On the Japanese barge was Brig. Gen. Albert W. Waldron, the 32d Division Artillery officer, accompanied by Col. Harold F. Handy, another AGF observer. General Waldron was making his second trip to the front. The preceding night he had brought up the two Australian mountain howitzers and he now had on the barge two 25-pounders, together with their Australian crews and ammunition. Bringing up the rear was the Bonwin, loaded with oil drums and carrying a few passengers, including Colonel McKenny, two Australian news cameramen, and several natives.11

Rounding Cape Sudest (about a mile south of Hariko) at 1830, the Alacrity had just dropped anchor in response to a signal from the shore when her passengers saw a formation of seventeen Japanese Zeros flying very high and heading south. The Zeros turned, swooped down in groups of threes, and, using incendiary ammunition—described by one of the Australian gunners on the barge as a "bright coloured rain of death"12 —strafed and bombed the little flotilla. Soon the Bonwin and the barge were sinking and the other two ships were burning. The captain of the Minnemura tried to run his ship inshore, but after the Papuan native in the bow dived overboard, swimming for the jungle-fringed beach, the trawler was soon


hung up on a reef, a sitting duck for the Zeros. General Harding swam safely to shore from the Minnemura, as did General Waldron from the barge, but Colonel McKenny was killed; twenty-three others were killed or drowned, and about a hundred men were wounded. Some survivors who could neither swim to land nor get into the ships' dinghies were picked up by rescue parties sent out from shore. During the night the Alacrity and the Minnemura burned to the water line. For hours their ammunition provided an impressive display of pyrotechnics—shells, rockets, and Very lights shooting into the tropical night like Fourth of July fireworks.13

The only cargo saved was the ammunition on the barge being towed by the Alacrity, and it might also have been lost except for heroic action by Lieutenant Harbert, who organized a party to pull the barge to shore. He remained on the barge in spite of repeated strafing, throwing overboard the flaming fragments that fell from the schooner and extinguishing the fires that started. His calmness steadied men who had taken cover and his courage inspired them to resume work and save the badly needed ammunition. For his extraordinary heroism he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, along with ten men of the two shore rescue parties who also braved enemy fire.14

Because of the loss of the cargoes on the small ships, General MacNider's offensive had to be postponed until 19 November, and even then it was difficult to bring the supplies up to the front. Japanese bombings and strafings at Embogo and Mendaropu on 17 November put the remaining trawlers out of commission, and the new trawlers that arrived on 21 November also suffered enemy air attacks. With the disruption for the time being of the small ships operation, supplies were airdropped. This method of supply had serious drawbacks. The difficulty of placing packages at the desired point is revealed by the report of one 32d Division unit whose supplies fell half a day's march away from the place where they were expected: "With a day's search using 40 natives we may find 20%." Fragile Ordnance supplies such as .30-caliber ammunition or 81-mm. mortar shells were also damaged in the drop. After an airstrip at Dobodura, in the neighborhood of Buna, was opened on 21 November, supplies could be landed, but the lift of the largest cargo plane then available, the C-47, equaled only the pay load of the 2 1/2-ton truck. Moreover, the weather, the high mountains, poor landing conditions, loading problems, and enemy fighter attacks on the slow, unarmed transports always limited air shipments. The best supply route to the Buna front was by sea, and the disruption of the trawler operation was to have serious consequences.15

The Attack Begins—and Stalls

On the rainy morning of 19 November


about two thousand men of the 32d Division began to move on foot through the jungle to attack the Japanese entrenched on a coastal perimeter about three miles long, extending from Buna Village to a coconut plantation at Cape Endaiadere. The Americans were divided into two forces, the left flank advancing toward the Buna Village-Buna Mission area and the right flank advancing toward the Cape Endaiadere area. The two flanks were only two or three miles apart, but were separated by a swamp that took six or seven hours to cross on foot. The forces were armed with .30-caliber M1 and M1903 rifles, Browning automatic rifles (BAR's), Thompson .45-caliber submachine guns, and pistols. Their heavy weapons companies depended mainly on light .30-caliber machine guns and 60-mm. mortars. Other weapons for the attack were 81-mm. mortars and 37-mm. antitank guns. Artillery support consisted of seven Australian weapons—three 3.7-inch pack howitzers and four 25-pounders.16

As the infantrymen moved forward they were accompanied by Ordnance troops to keep their weapons in repair. A few came from the 32d Division's Ordnance Section (the 32d's Ordnance company had been moved out when the division was triangularized in December 1941);17 most had been obtained from the 37th Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company. The left flank was served by 1st Lt. Paul Keene, 10 men from the 37th, and 3 division mechanics. Lieutenant Harbert, 8 men from the 37th, and 2 division mechanics were with troops on the right flank. In the opinion of the 32d Division commander, Keene and Harbert were to demonstrate "amply . . . the capability of young ordnance officers to operate continuously under fire and under adverse conditions."18

Lt. Col. Tyler D. Barney, the 32d Division Ordnance officer who was soon to arrive at the Dobodura airhead from Port Moresby, recorded: "Perhaps at no time in recent military history was ordnance service rendered under so adverse and confused conditions."19 From the very beginning, the combat troops had to fight the jungle as well as the Japanese. They had to wade through swamps that were sometimes neck-deep; when they came out, their rifles and machine guns were full of muck and their ammunition was wet. Tropical storms cut off air support, the supply of food and ammunition ran low, and the men were soon depleted by heat, malaria, dengue fever, and dysentery. They had not been adequately trained for jungle warfare and were demoralized by strange jungle noises and Japanese sniping tactics.

Worst of all, the 32d Division troops had not been prepared for the strong defenses they encountered at Buna. Instead of finding the tired, emaciated remnants of a Japanese force that had expended itself in the attack over the Owen Stanley Range, they found the fresh, well-armed Special Naval Landing Forces. They were entrenched in strong bunkers constructed of foot-wide coconut logs, impervious to in-


Photo:  Japanese bunker, Buna


fantry weapons, bunkers so cleverly camouflaged with grasses and tree branches that aircraft could not spot them. Even if Army Air Forces planes had spotted them, bombing and strafing in the dense jungle would have endangered nearby friendly troop concentrations. General Harding quickly realized that tanks might be effective, but his efforts to obtain some of the lend-lease Stuarts at Milne Bay were defeated by the transportation problem. When the first tank was loaded on one of the captured Japanese barges, the barge sank. The only answer was artillery, but the bunkers were so close to the ground that the Australian 25-pounders were usually ineffective.20

The 32d Division had arrived in New Guinea without artillery because American planners had doubted whether artillery could be successfully used in jungle warfare. General Kenney had emphatically stated that heavy artillery had "no place in jungle warfare. The artillery in this theater flies."21 Planners believed that mortars, aircraft, and the few Australian


weapons could provide adequate support for the infantry. Nevertheless, as an experiment, on 13 November a single 105-mm. howitzer of Battery A, 129th Field Artillery, 32d Division, was broken down, and together with a gun crew, an Australian tractor, and about twenty-five rounds of ammunition was flown to Port Moresby from Brisbane. On 26 November, in support of General Harding's Thanksgiving-Day offensive, the howitzer with its crew, tractor, and 100 rounds of ammunition was flown to Dobodura in three DC 3 transport planes and put into position at the front under the code name DUSTY.22

DUSTY was soon highly prized. When it was fired with an HE projectile using an M48 delay fuze it could destroy Japanese bunkers. Considered by General Waldron, the 32d Division artillery officer, "a superb weapon, durable, accurate, and with great firepower, . . . better by far than anything the Japs had to bring against us,"23 the howitzer rendered excellent service—until its ammunition gave out. In the first few days the initial shipment was increased to nearly 400 rounds, all apparently HE. This was fired rapidly and in about a week all the shells in Papua had been expended. No adequate supply was to be available until late in December. One explanation was that Advance New Guinea Force, which controlled the supply of all artillery ammunition and was under an Australian commander until 13 January, had given priority to the Australian 25-pounder ammunition; but the underlying reason was that transportation, by air or sea, was unequal to demands. Because of the lack of ammunition, dusty was silent when most needed; and for the same reason, the remaining three 105-mm. howitzers of Battery A, 129th Field Artillery, flown to New Guinea by 22 November, were not sent to the front but remained at Port Moresby throughout the Papua Campaign.24

I Corps Takes Over

By the end of November the 32d Division's attack on Buna had bogged down. General MacArthur, having set up his headquarters at Port Moresby on 6 November, was, in the words of an Australian historian, "in the grip of great disquiet."25 He sent to Australia for Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, commanding general of I Corps, and, in a dramatic interview on i December, ordered him to take over command of all U.S. troops in the Papua Campaign.

The change brought to Port Moresby Col. Marshall E. Darby, Ordnance officer of I Corps and commander of the 9th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion, which had arrived in Australia in October. Darby was placed in command of the rear detachment for Buna Force (Buna Force was the new name for the American forward tactical command—a combination of I Corps and 32d Division headquarters) and thus had command of all troops under


the administrative control of I Corps in the Port Moresby area. His small staff, never exceeding four officers and six enlisted men, included men from other corps staff sections as well as Ordnance. Ordnance matters, which primarily concerned ammunition, were of major importance, but Darby could not give his full time to them. Also, he had many headquarters to deal with—GHQ, Advance New Guinea Force, the Fifth Air Force, and the Advanced Base Section, New Guinea—from his point of view, "a SNAFU mess . . . Battling with GHQ—NGF—5th Air Force—Base Sect—all wanting to run the war."26

Sometimes in order to get action Darby felt he had to appeal directly to Base Section 3. On 2 December he bypassed normal channels—Advanced Base and GHQ Advance Section—to radio directly to the Ordnance officer at Base Section 3 for 800 rounds of 105-mm. ammunition by the first air priority, pending the arrival of a sea-borne supply. His reason for going outside channels was that at the moment the ammunition shipment "was the most important thing in the world" and he "couldn't trust anyone with it except the Ordnance Department." When no ammunition had arrived by 6 December he sent a sharp message to corps headquarters in Australia explaining his needs and what he had done, requesting the corps "to raise a little hell" about the ammunition, and pointing out that General Eichelberger had "asked for 100 rounds per day for 10 days starting 5 December and there isn't a single damned round here." Nevertheless, weeks went by before a steady flow of 105-mm. ammunition reached the front; and in the meantime, Darby was plagued at times by shortages of other types as well.27

Ammunition Supply to Buna Force

In theory the ammunition plan for the Papua Campaign calling for ten units of fire—five in USASOS dumps at Port Moresby and five in forward dumps—was adequate; but transportation difficulties made for a variable and irregular supply in the forward areas. About 10 December Buna Force attempted automatic supply from SOS to forward dumps, but abandoned it a week later as impractical because of frequent changes in needs, air priorities, weather, and other factors. Troops expended ammunition by round and required replenishment by rounds of specific types. After 17 December supply was strictly on the basis of a daily radio sent by Colonel Barney from Dobodura to Port Moresby.28

Theater Ordnance officers tried to correlate issues at bases, losses through shipments, and expenditures by troops, but it was exceedingly difficult to get expenditure reports from the combat units because of dispersion and the paper work involved. One big unknown factor was always the quantity lost in the jungle or bypassed at small supply points when the fighting deviated from the supply plan. From the best information available, the highest expenditures in the campaign were of .30-


caliber ball ammunition for the M1 rifle, 45-caliber ammunition for the submachine gun, and HE ammunition for the 81-mm. mortar, which was unexpectedly employed as a substitute for artillery.29

The high expenditure of .45-caliber rounds for the submachine (Tommy) gun was partly caused by the 32d Division infantrymen's preference for the Tommy gun over the BAR. In contrast to the marines on Guadalcanal, who swore by the BAR (and objected to the Tommy gun because it sounded like a Japanese weapon and drew friendly fire), the Army troops in Papua considered the BAR too heavy and clumsy for quick use in the jungle and too hard to keep in repair. High expenditures of ammunition for the submachine gun, as well as for the popular .30-caliber light machine gun and M1 rifles, were also caused by the fact that the 32d Division troops had been inadequately trained for the campaign—their first experience in combat—and often failed markedly to exercise fire discipline and control, firing many more rounds than were either anticipated or necessary. Firing was often "wild and prolonged," reported the I Corps G3, "at imaginary targets or no targets at all." The Japanese, who themselves displayed excellent fire discipline, noted the poor habits of the American soldiers. "The enemy is using ammunition wildly," noted one Japanese in his diary. To another it seemed that the Americans shot "at any sound due to illusion," firing light machine guns and throwing hand grenades "recklessly." A third remarked that the Americans were "in the jungle firing as long as their ammunition lasts. Maybe they get more money for firing so many rounds." A possible shortage of .30-caliber machine gun ammunition was averted by taking the .30-caliber rounds for the little-used BAR's from the so-round magazines and reloading them into fabric belts for the machine guns.30

Larger quantities of 81-mm. mortar ammunition than had been anticipated were needed because of the lack of 105-mm. howitzer ammunition. The relatively small area of the battlefield allowed the 81-mm. mortar, often fired in batteries of six or more pieces, to cover large portions of enemy territory, and the slowness of the advance permitted the mortars to move forward fast enough to support the infantry. Reports of duds in the 81-mm. heavy rounds (M56) were probably due to the fact that the rounds were being fired with a short delay fuze that permitted the projectile to bury itself far enough in mud or swamp water to smother the detonation, leaving no crater. When the round was fired with an instantaneous fuze and hit on solid ground, a fine "daisy cutter" effect was achieved. Though it could not destroy the stronger Japanese bunkers, the mortar was still greatly feared by the enemy and was considered by the commanding general of Buna Force as probably the most effective weapon used during the campaign.31

At the end of the first week in December a thousand rounds of 37-mm. canister am-


munition arrived unexpectedly at Port Moresby by air and sea, transshipped via Brisbane from the marines at Guadalcanal, who had received large quantities in September. A projectile that dates back to the Civil War, a canister is a metal cylinder containing metal fragments. When fired, it splits open, scattering its contents. Colonel Barney radioed Australia for information on how to fire the canister and was told to shoot it and find out. While experimenting, several men were wounded, but after they had learned how to handle and fire it the canister proved highly effective. Making possible the employment against troops of the 37-mm. antitank gun —hitherto of limited use because the Japanese were not using tanks and because its antitank round was not powerful enough to destroy the thick Japanese bunkers—the 37-mm. canister ammunition discharged its pellets with lethal, shotgun effect on troops in the open and on those protected only by brush or undergrowth.32

No American hand grenades reached the front until mid-December because of difficulty with the fuzes. Until then the troops used Australian fragmentation grenades, which in some cases were preferred to the American as being more powerful, more dependable, and quicker to explode so that the enemy had less time to pick up the grenade and hurl it back. In other cases the American was preferred in spite of its tendency to emit sparks and give away the position of the thrower at night.33 Neither was effective against Japanese in bunkers, nor was the antitank grenade (M9) of any use against them. The Australians had rifle grenades that could be fired through the slit openings of the bunkers with devastating effect, but although the Americans requested rifle grenades from Australia early in the operation, they did not receive any at the front during the Papua Campaign. An offensive hand grenade that would kill or incapacitate all the defenders in a given bunker by its blast effect would have been of great value. To fill the need, the Australians contrived an effective "blast bomb" out of an Australian hand grenade, two pounds of loose ammonal, a tin container, and some adhesive tape.34

The supply of bombs to the Fifth Air Force from Major Manson's dumps at Port Moresby was hampered at times because Manson's crew could not always inventory its stocks properly. This was especially serious in the case of the fragmentation bombs. General Kenney had discovered that small bombs of this type equipped with a supersensitive fuze that would detonate them instantaneously on contact even with foliage were most effective in the jungle. He had used them in an attack on Buna on 12 September, and they were very much in demand as the Papua Campaign drew to a close early in January 1943. It was thought that there were none left in New Guinea, until a search


through the USASOS dumps revealed about 400 clusters on which there was no record. The discovery came too late for the bombs to be used in support of ground operations in the Buna action.35

Maintenance in the Jungle

Working in oppressive heat—sometimes in several feet of water—depleted by disease, and lacking any repair equipment other than the hand tools they carried, the maintenance detachments under Keene and Harbert "did a splendid job," reported one Ordnance observer, "never more than five or ten minutes behind the lines, with no difficulty keeping up parts and making repairs."36

Parts most in demand were main recoil springs for submachine guns, rear sight and bolt assemblies for M1 rifles, driving springs and cocking levers for light machine guns, and firing pins for 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortars, and to obtain them the crews cannibalized arms and equipment left on the battlefield. Cannibalization was wasteful and was vigorously opposed by Colonel Holman, who advocated the evacuation of damaged weapons and vehicles to Ordnance service centers so they could be torn down and rebuilt. In later campaigns in the Pacific Holman was able to put this procedure into effect but in Papua cannibalization was often the only way to get parts. Weapons parts had been extremely scarce in Australia ever since the 32d Division landed in May 1942. There was also the problem of bringing up supplies. In early December, when the first attacks by Buna Force took place, only seven jeeps and three 1-ton trailers had been flown into Dobodura and were available (when roads permitted) for carrying supplies to the front. Most of the supply burden was borne by carrier lines of Papuan natives, laden mainly with rations and ammunition.37

Salvage represented about 90 percent of the Ordnance maintenance task at the front.38 Sometimes it was dangerous work. There were times when maintenance men braved enemy fire to retrieve weapons that might otherwise have fallen into the hands of the enemy. On one occasion, for example, Technician Featherstone, who had participated in the earliest trawler operation, "with utter disregard for his own personal safety, volunteered and went forward under heavy enemy fire to retrieve weapons on the front lines which had been abandoned by the dead and wounded." For this and other instances of gallantry in action near Buna between 16 November 1942 and 3 January 1943, he was awarded the Silver Star.39 More weapons could have been saved if Keene and Harbert had had more men to spare for the job. Additional Ordnance men were requested by the 32d Division chief of staff early in December, but it was 3 January 1943 before they arrived. For lack of salvage men.


many rifles and machine guns abandoned on the battlefield were damaged by rust beyond repair. The importance of battlefield salvage was one of the main Ordnance lessons of the Papua Campaign.40

Materials to clean and oil the small arms that had been carried through the swamps were much in demand. Cleaning and preserving (C&P) materials had been in short supply to begin with. Many of the M1 rifles had been issued without oil and thong cases. Often when the men had the cases they simply threw them away to lighten the load they were carrying. By 3 December the shortage of gun oil, small individual containers for oil, brushes, cleaning rods, and other C&P items was serious enough to affect operations. One combat officer, observing that the first thing the men stripped from the Japanese dead or wounded was the neat bakelite oil case they carried, reported that gun oil was "very precious and always short." Urgent messages characterized the condition of small arms at the front as "deplorable" and "terrible."41

The cleaning and preserving items were not available at Port Moresby. Twenty-five tons that had been awaiting shipment on the docks at Brisbane had gone forward by water in mid-November but were still en route at the beginning of December. One portion of this cargo especially needed at the front consisted of 4,000 4-ounce metal cans for gun oil, to be carried by the individual soldier. On an urgent, first priority requisition from Colonel Darby to Brisbane, a new shipment of containers went off immediately by air from Townsville. By the time it arrived additional quantities were needed and Darby requested that 3,000 be shipped by air. Because planes out of Brisbane were grounded, the containers had to go to Townsville by passenger train and did not arrive until five days after Darby's request, a delay that evidenced some of the difficulties of supply by air. Nevertheless, air was the only recourse in an emergency. Air delivery of at least thirty gallons of gun oil and six bales of patches, the shipment to be duplicated every forty-eight hours, was requested on 18 December. At that time the stock of oil and patches in the fighting area was reported to be zero. The men at the front used Quartermaster motor oil and captured Japanese C&P items and in the jungle when these were unavailable greased their small arms with candles, graphite pencils, and ordinary Vaseline.42

By the end of December as sea transportation improved, increasing supplies of cleaning and preserving materials began to reach the front. But to those responsible in Australia the situation was still critical. Strenuous efforts were being made to improve the supply to Papua and to insure that shortages of cleaning and preserving materials would not recur. When the supply of metal oil containers (demanded in much larger quantities than had been foreseen) was exhausted, Colonel Holman drew on the Australian Army for 2-ounce


plastic containers. He also attempted to have oil and thong cases manufactured locally. His staff experimented with different types of rust preventives for small arms in the damp jungles and after six months of tests came up with a lubricant containing lanolin that withstood corrosion under the severest conditions. The Papua Campaign ended before the new lubricant could be introduced for more than field tests in combat, but it offered hope for better maintenance in future jungle campaigns.43

The Forward Bases

In mid-December four lend-lease Stuart tanks were landed by sea at Hariko, only a few miles from the battlefield, an "amazing achievement" in the opinion of General Herring, commanding general of Advance New Guinea Force. These tanks, and those following a few days later, had little effect on the battle for Buna; the light, fast Stuarts, slowed by swamp mud choked with kunai grass, were, in the words of the Australian historian of the battle, "like race horses harnessed to heavy ploughs"; moreover, they were "almost blind" because tank vision, restricted at the best of times, was shut off by the tropical growth.44 Yet the fact that the tanks could be landed on that coast at all, only a month after General Harding's ill-starred effort to bring them up by barge from Milne Bay, showed how far the sea supply operation had progressed in a very short time.

Sizable ships could now come into Oro Bay, a harbor about fifteen miles southeast of Buna. The 3,300-ton Dutch freighter Karsik on the night of 11-12 December brought the tanks from Port Moresby into Oro Bay. Unloading was supervised by Maj. Carroll K. Moffatt of Combined Operational Service Command, who had just arrived in the area with the first landing craft to reach the combat zone—six Higgins boats (LCVP's) and two Australian barges. The tanks were transferred to the barges, which were towed by motor launches, and carried up the coast through the reefs to Hariko. There the tank crews drove them over the side of the barges onto the beach.45

The establishment of an effective line of supply by sea made it necessary to increase Ordnance service at Oro Bay as well as Milne Bay. For these forward bases Maj. Byrne C. Manson recommended composite companies of 6 officers and 180 men each, including headquarters, ammunition, depot, weapons maintenance, and motor maintenance men, but this was merely a hope for the future.46 For the present he had to send piecemeal detachments. At Milne Bay a depot company began to arrive on 26 November, but no effective motor maintenance was possible until mid-December when Manson sent to Milne Bay a detachment of his Port Moresby company, now redesignated the 3425th Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company


(Q). At Oro Bay he could provide during the Papua Campaign only small detachments of headquarters, maintenance, and depot troops, a number inadequate to support growing operations. Even clerks had to double as ammunition handlers. Toward the end of the campaign the Oro Bay Ordnance officer was "frantically calling for help and with good reason."47

The problem of motor maintenance arose at Oro Bay in early December when tracks for jeeps from Hariko and Dobodura to the front were finally completed. From dumps or open beaches, jeeps pulled their 1-ton trailers over primitive roads corduroyed with coconut logs and interspersed with mudholes that played havoc with springs, shock absorbers, and brake cylinders. The jeeps proved to be sturdily built —no other motor vehicles could have operated under such conditions—but even the jeeps had difficulty in the mud. When tropical rains turned many areas into quagmires, oversized command car tires were mounted on the jeeps, or, better yet, dual wheels using standard tires were constructed for the rear axles of the vehicles. The initial job of conversion to six wheels was done almost overnight by half a dozen men of the 3425th Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company (Q) at Milne Bay. Once this conversion proved workable, the 6-wheeled jeeps were prepared in Australia for Papua.48

The Shortage of Base Personnel and Supplies

To provide Ordnance service at three major bases—Port Moresby, Milne Bay, and Oro Bay—and at several minor bases, Major Manson had only 650 men during the entire campaign. The acute manpower shortage began in October, when the arrival of the 32d Division troops greatly increased the Ordnance load and at the same time pre-empted the shipping needed to transport base personnel. An 8-man detachment of the 36oth Composite Company and a 70-man detachment of the 55th Ordnance Ammunition Company arrived in October, but the rest of the ammunition company and the maintenance men—the 37th Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company and the remainder of Company A, 72d Ordnance Medium Maintenance Battalion (Q)—did not arrive until late November or early December. Supply shipments were also affected. For three weeks in October not a single cargo ship moved from Brisbane to New Guinea. There was some improvement in November, and small air shipments helped, but it was early January before a regular sea-and-air shipping schedule for Ordnance materiel was established and large stocks could be forwarded.49


The motor maintenance problem, not only new to Ordnance but new to the Army under combat conditions, was staggering. The fleet of 845 vehicles at Port Moresby in October had grown by mid-December to 2,500, and was increasing by 100 a week. An average of 4,000 tons of cargo, Australian and American, was being hauled every day from the docks, in addition to the hauling within the base of men, water, rations, and ammunition. Over roads badly corrugated, alternately very dusty and very muddy, trucks operated twenty-four hours a day with very little first or second echelon maintenance. One unit reported, "We are too busy hauling to stop and grease the trucks." Many of the vehicles had arrived from Australia in poor condition, damaged, sometimes demolished, en route; some came with smooth tires, some lacking ignition keys, and many without tools.50

Spare parts were scarce until January, when heavy shipments began to come in. By then it had become evident that no matter how many parts were sent, there would never be enough as long as drivers continued to neglect first and second echelon maintenance. Manson detailed an inspection team of one officer and three enlisted men to visit motor pools, report on the condition and state of maintenance of each vehicle inspected, and teach drivers the danger of reckless driving and overloading. The team brought about some improvement, but the base continued to be "littered with broken down vehicles." The only answer was more maintenance troops, including a heavy maintenance company, but none were available.51

Heat, Disease, and Hunger

The shortage of Ordnance men at the bases in Papua was aggravated by the hard working conditions. An observer noted that the heat made everyone "about 50% efficient";52 many of the men suffered from recurring attacks of malaria and other diseases. Along with most of the other troops in New Guinea, they did not have enough food because of the shipping shortage. At Port Moresby one inspection officer saw "hungry men working themselves beyond their capacity seven days a week in an effort to provide Ordnance service to troops whose numbers would have ordinarily required five times the Ordnance personnel available."53 Refusing "to wring the last ounce of energy from the men under my control merely to show how much can be done with so few men," Manson sent strongly worded requests to Colonel Holman for more personnel. Be-


yond a few depot men and a handful of staff officers, Holman could do little, for the men were not available.54

Under these circumstances, Major Manson did an outstanding job for which he received the Legion of Merit. He kept the flow of Ordnance supplies moving up front; made inspection trips to forward bases covering every road and installation in New Guinea; planned intelligently; and sent valuable reports and recommendations back to Australia. All this was accomplished under great pressure, sometimes when he himself was ill. By the last week in January the I Corps medical officer was afraid that Manson would "crack" unless he was given more help and granted leave to Australia.55

Captured Japanese Materiel

Toward the end of the campaign Major Manson had to organize a technical section on enemy munitions. Since September 1942 the Ordnance Department in Washington had been requesting captured Japanese materiel. Colonel Holman had been able to send only a few bombs and fuzes, some obtained from an Australian bomb disposal section at Port Moresby, others from the Ordnance officers at Milne Bay and Townsville. In the early stages of the Papua Campaign, Advance New Guinea Force—the Australian command under which all Allied forces operated— had responsibility for all Japanese materiel sent into the Port Moresby area, including that captured by Americans. The Australians were willing to furnish the Americans reports, evaluations, and photographs, but the weapons themselves went to an Australian Imperial Forces museum in Melbourne, and reports on important items, such as a Japanese bullet that appeared to be of an explosive or dum-dum type, were sometimes very slow in arriving at American headquarters. The procedure was obviously unsatisfactory, and during the autumn of 1942 Colonel Holman worked out a new system with the Australians: if Americans captured the items they got the first piece, the Australians the second, and vice versa. By January 1943 this new procedure was in effect, and a 6-man detachment from a small Ordnance technical intelligence unit that had just arrived in Australia was earmarked for Port Moresby.56

"A Poor Man's War"

With the aid of better transportation to the front, bringing in fresh troops and more effective ammunition to batter down Japanese bunkers, the victory came at Buna on


3 January. By 22 January all organized Japanese resistance in Papua had ended and "the long, heartbreaking campaign was done." Fought in the "Green Hell" of the jungle that took a heavy toll of men and weapons, the campaign had been siege warfare—the bitterest, most punishing, and most expensive kind. And yet it had been "a poor man's war."57 There were never enough men, and the amount of supplies that could be brought forward from Australia to Port Moresby and from Port Moresby to the front was restricted by the scarcity of ships and aircraft. It was also pioneer warfare. There had been little experience with either Japanese tactics or with the Southwest Pacific climate and terrain to guide planning.

The weapons carried by the Americans were standard equipment, none of it designed especially for jungle warfare; the jungle kit developed in the summer of 1942 consisted mainly of Quartermaster items. General MacArthur, undoubtedly influenced by the Japanese use of lightweight weapons, had asked the War Department in August 1942 for special items to equip his troops for jungle warfare in New Guinea—light machine guns, small tractors, folding bicycles, pack horse equipment, and miscellaneous items. He also wanted to use 60-mm. mortars instead of 105-mm. howitzers in his infantry cannon companies and to replace the 105-mm. howitzers in his artillery with 81-mm. mortars and 75-mm. pack howitzers. The War Department made great efforts to comply with these requests, but the few special items that reached SWPA came too late to be used in the Papua Campaign.58

Bayonets and jungle knives, desired before the campaign, were not employed except for such down-to-earth tasks as opening ration cans and scraping mud from combat boots. In the heavy weapons companies, the light .30-caliber machine guns replaced the more cumbersome heavies, and 60-mm. mortars were sometimes substituted for the heavier 81-mm. pieces. The few .50-caliber machine guns were usually installed in semipermanent mounts for antiaircraft defense of airstrips, supply dumps, and other installations.59 In the category of hand and shoulder weapons perhaps the greatest complaint of the 32d Division was the lack of carbines, the light .30-caliber weapon developed as a substitute for the .45-caliber pistol. General Harding began asking for them almost as soon as his unit reached Australia, but large-scale production did not begin until the summer of 1942 and the demands of other theaters prevented any shipments to SWPA in time for use around Buna.60

For the infantrymen, the need had been not so much for new lightweight weapons


as for greater quantities of certain supplies already available, notably cleaning and preserving materials. Combat in New Guinea and Guadalcanal proved that in the main the standard heavy equipment of the infantry division was far more effective, reliable, and durable than equivalent lightweight matériel. Army units fought over whatever terrain they encountered without noticeable change, using only a few items of special equipment.61 The only special Ordnance items developed in the theater in 1942 were a light, 2-wheeled, jungle cart for carrying ammunition from jeepheads forward; a modification kit to convert a jeep into a field ambulance in the jungle; and a small ship or floating depot to carry weapons, parts, and cleaning and preservation materials to combat troops at advance bases.62

Many of the maintenance problems that plagued Ordnance officers in this early campaign were to recur not only in the Pacific but in other parts of the world. This was especially true of the motor maintenance problems. Planners in the fall of 1942 had not yet grasped the magnitude of the task of supplying motor vehicles and keeping them operating, a task transferred from the Quartermaster Corps to the Ordnance Department by Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, commanding general of Army Service Forces, at a time when offensives were soon to be launched from the base in Australia and from the base in the British Isles. The transfer was strongly opposed by Maj. Gen. Levin H. Campbell, Jr., Chief of Ordnance, because he knew that there would not be time to train Ordnance men to handle this tremendous job. He immediately appealed to all automobile manufacturers and dealers to supply trained men. They did so and, in his opinion, saved the day for Ordnance.63

The Papua Campaign clearly showed that automotive maintenance men as well as automotive spare parts would be required in greater numbers than had ever been anticipated. Another important lesson, applicable to all types of supplies, was that packaging and methods of handling would have to be improved. The campaign had demonstrated, moreover, the danger of sending combat troops forward without sufficient support at advance bases.

Lessons learned in the Papua Campaign were too late to be applied to the first offensive in the war against Germany, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. It was on a far grander scale than the early Pacific campaigns, and the planning factors were different. In the Pacific, planning had been conditioned by the direction of the Japanese advance and the necessity for a far-flung holding operation at the same time. In the Atlantic, preparations in the spring of 1942 were undertaken in the midst of "vast confusion and uncertainty" as to when and where to attack.64


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