Bougainville, 1943-1945: The Forgotten Campaign

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This would interdict the Japanese supply line to Munda and prevent Japanese troops on nearby Kolombangara from reinforcing Munda.

Bougainville 1943-1945: The Forgotten Campaign

The larger Southern Landing Group, under the command of assistant division commander Brig. Leonard F. Wing's force would land some five air-miles east of Munda at Zanana beach, a site undefended by the Japanese, and attack westward. To the north, Colonel Liversedge's forces landed after midnight on 5 July at Rice Anchorage, several miles northeast up the coast from the Bairoko-Enogai area. Shallow water and a narrow landing beach hindered the landing more than the inaccurate Japanese shelling. Liversedge planned for two companies from the 3d Battalion, th Infantry, to defend the landing site, while the rest of the battalion, the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, and the 3d Battalion, th Infantry, moved to Dragons Peninsula.

There the 3d Battalion, th, would veer southwest and take up a blocking position along the Munda-Bairoko trail. Remaining forces would clear the peninsula and take Bairoko. Because speed was so important, Liversedge's force was lightly armed and provisioned, carrying only three days' worth of rations.

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Moving out early on 5 July, the men soon learned that, contrary to earlier intelligence reports, following the rough trails, hacked out of the jungle by coastwatchers and native New Georgians, to Dragons Peninsula would be exceedingly tough. Constant rain plagued the first weeks of the campaign, making more dismal the task of struggling up and down jungle hills seemingly composed in equal parts of sharp coral and thick clinging vines.

The rain also added unforeseen tasks; one stream soon became a nine-foot-deep river to ford. The men in the th's weapons company, laboring under the weight of their heavy machine guns and mm. On 7 July the marines and the two companies of the th Infantry reached Enogai Inlet and, after heavy skirmishing, seized the village of Triri. There they spent the night and Liversedge established his command post. The next day, while the marines made an abortive effort to march to Enogai, several companies became involved in an extended firelight south of Triri along the trail to Bairoko, which left Japanese dead.

The next morning marines used an unguarded trail to approach Enogai. Despite the capture of Enogai, Liversedge's tactical situation remained difficult. Already five days behind schedule and with many wounded, he was so short of supplies that he was receiving resupply by air.

The marine battalion was at one-half of its effective strength. Liversedge needed to capture Bairoko to cut the Japanese line of communications to Munda. Meanwhile the men of the 3d Battalion, th Infantry, had forced their way around the southern side of a series of hills, until they reached the Bairoko-Munda trail.

On 8 July they established a camouflaged blocking position along the trail about eight miles north of Munda. There they remained for nine days. Although the battalion sustained eleven men killed and twenty-nine wounded in skirmishes, the Japanese did not make a determined attempt to eliminate the trail block. Willing to let an American battalion isolate itself deep in the jungle, they simply bypassed it by using more westerly trails to reinforce Munda.

The unit's severest trial was its food shortage, and here, too, supplies had to be airdropped. Finally on 17 July Liversedge ordered the battalion to abandon the trail block and move north to assist with the attack on Bairoko. Three days later, Colonel Liversedge's force, reinforced by the 4th Marine Raider Battalion, launched a prepared attack against Bairoko's fortified positions.

Lacking artillery support and tactical intelligence, outgunned by Japanese mm. Marine casualties alone totaled 46 killed and wounded. With the forces available to him, Liversedge was unable to take Bairoko and retired to Enogai. Japanese supply lines would remain operating during the campaign against Munda. The landing at Zanana began on 2 July, and both the d and th Infantry Regiments were fully ashore by 6 July.

Bougainville, 1943-1945: The Forgotten Campaign

The 43d Division was ready to advance. The plan for taking Munda was not complicated. General Hester envisioned the th and d marching from Zanana to the Barike River, a distance of no more than three miles. Using the river as a line of departure, his regiments would drive west the th inland, the d along the coast , capture the high ground, and then take the airfield. The only passage through the jungle was a narrow footpath just north of Zanana that led west. On paper, the plan seemed simple.

For the green troops, however, who would be using inadequate maps to find their way through a labyrinth of coral jottings, draws, and swamps, all so densely overgrown with exotic jungle flora that visibility was measured in yards and enemy positions were invisible, the reality proved quite different. The d reached the line of departure with only minor trouble, but the th received a brutal introduction to jungle warfare. On 6 July the men spent an exhausting day following native guides along the narrow, vine-choked Munda Trail.

That night the worn-out 3d Battalion failed to establish proper defenses and fell prey to Japanese harassment. The tired and nervous troops spent a sleepless night firing at imagined Japanese raiding parties.

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The next morning the battalion continued along Munda Trail, running into a well-camouflaged trail block established by a Japanese infantry platoon. Dug-in machine guns on high ground with supporting riflemen stopped the advance. Frontal assaults against hidden enemy positions resulted only in the loss of platoon leaders and a company commander. Finally, after the mortar platoon of the 3d Battalion, th, cut down trees to create fields of fire, observers crept to within thirty yards of the Japanese to direct mm.

The battalion spent another sleepless night as the target of Japanese harassment.

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The 3d Battalion stormed the Japanese position the next day and eradicated it before advancing west with the remainder of the regiment and joining the d on the line of departure along the Barike River. That night the 3d Battalion, along with the rest of the regiment, endured yet another evening of Japanese torment. It was too much. Overwhelming fatigue and stress combined with imagination and anxiety to produce something resembling widespread panic. Some men knifed each other. Men threw grenades blindly in the dark. Some of the grenades hit trees, bounced back, and exploded among the Americans.

Some soldiers fired round after round to little avail. In the morning no trace remained of the Japanese dead or wounded.

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But there were American casualties; some had been stabbed to death, some wounded by knives. Many suffered grenade wounds, and 50 percent of these were caused by fragments from American grenades. After an hour-long bombardment of suspected Japanese positions on 9 July, the offensive jumped off. Progress was slow. The difficult terrain, the absence of tactical intelligence regarding Japanese defenses, and the physical depletion of the troops all hindered the advance.

Weighted down with equipment and ammunition, the men forded the rain-swollen river and its twisted tributaries. Between streams, they slogged through mangrove swamps, struggling to stay upright while trying to find their way without accurate maps.

Soldiers in the lead platoons had to cut their way through the tangles of rattan vines that knotted the jungle. Narrow trails forced units to advance in single-file columns, churning the trails into mud and allowing a few hidden Japanese to slow the advance. By the late afternoon, the d had gained approximately 1, yards.


Farther inland, the th made little progress, still shaken from the previous night. Advancing along Munda Trail the next day, the th struck the first line of the Japanese main defenses. The primeval jungles of New Georgia, and the Solomons in general, were thankless places to build roads.

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The th Engineer Battalion spared no effort to construct a road-more accurately, a jeep trail-from Zanana to the front, but even its indefatigable exertions could not speed road building in a jungle crisscrossed with streams. As the road's terminus gradually fell farther and farther behind the advancing troops, ammunition, food, water, and other supplies had to be hand-carried to the front and casualties carried to the rear.

Half of the combat troops soon were performing such duties, and Allied cargo planes were pressed into service to parachute supplies to the troops. General Hester recognized that logistical shortcomings were restraining his advance and decided to shorten his supply line.

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He ordered the d to push through the mangrove swamp behind Laiana, two miles east of Munda and establish a new beachhead.