For an explanation, see yesterday's post
For six months after Pearl Harbor the Japanese had run wild, but then they suffered a disastrous naval defeat at the Battle of Midway on the 6th of June, 1942. On the 7th of August the Marines stormed ashore on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, five hundred miles east of New Guinea. Japan controlled the entire northern coast of New Guinea but the Australians still held Port Moresby on the southern side. The Japanese attempted to send their army over the top of the treacherous Owen Stanley Mountains by way of a primitive jungle trail, too rugged for motorized vehicles, called the Kokoda track. In mid-September the Australian army stopped them less than thirty miles from Port Moresby, and then gradually, painfully, forced them back over the Owen Stanleys, retaking the mountain village of Wau in April of 1943.
MacArthur's plan for retaking New Guinea called for securing Milne Bay on the southeastern tip of the island and then working up the coast, first to Sanananda, Buna, and Gona, and then later to Salamaua and Lae. Both the 32nd and the 41st Divisions were ready, but the 32nd got the initial call. In late December the 163rd Regiment of the 41st joined the battle, and by January 22nd the battle for Sanananda was all over but the mopping up. The 186th Infantry flew over the Owen Stanleys to relieve elements of the 32nd.
The next phase would be up to the 162nd Infantry Regiment, including Company I, the boys from Bend, Stanley Langeberg's unit. William F. McCartney wrote the 41st Division's history in 1945, and in it he summed up the Salamaua campaign:
The 162nd Infantry, commanded by Colonel A. R. MacKechnie, ended its long period of waiting and got its baptism of fire in the fight which resulted in the fall of Salamaua and Lae, seventy-six days after the initial landing. In brief the story of the campaign was a landing at Nassau Bay, a junction with the Australians on Bitoi Ridge in the Mubo sector, then a slow process of driving the Japs off the ridges around Tambu Bay, with Roosevelt Ridge and Scout Ridge offering the greatest resistance. (McCartney, p. 51)
The 162nd had been in New Guinea since early February but preparations for the landing at Nassau were not complete until the end of June. The intervening months took a toll.
Malaria, typhus and other diseases, and the enervating climate had reduced the troops to poor physical shape. Units started the campaign with about two-thirds of their normal strength and in its later days several companies were reduced to thirty-five and fifty-five men because of the hardships of the campaign, disease and battle casualties. (McCartney, p. 51)
The 1st Battalion, comprised of companies A, B, and C, hit the beach just before midnight on the 29th of June.
Everything went wrong during the landing at Nassau Bay, approximately ten miles south of Salamaua. The leading PT boat overshot the beach; in turning back, several of the boats carrying the first wave were lost and much time passed before they could be located. By this time the second wave was moving ashore and crossed in front of the first wave, almost causing a collision. As the boats approached shore they found a ten-to-twelve-foot surf pounding the beach. Utter confusion reigned throughout the landing. (McCartney, p. 53)
And yet the stormy night worked to their advantage.
A prisoner, captured later, said that the landing was a complete surprise and that they knew nothing of it until the boats beached, troops were ashore and the tractors and bulldozers were at work. Due to the noise and confusion the Japs thought they were being attacked by an overwhelming force, including tanks, and they moved inland and hid in the swamps. (McCartney, p. 53)
Over the next three days the battalion cleared the area of Japanese, at the cost of over twenty men killed and another thirty wounded, and then linked up with the Australians further inland.
Problems of supply became very difficult and air supply was used. There was a shortage of native carriers and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the forward units furnished with rations. Food ran short and water was hard to get, men averaging a canteenful a day for all purposes.... To make matters worse, the rations given to these men contained salted peanuts. (McCartney, p. 55)
Evacuation of the wounded was extremely difficult.
Native litter bearers won the admiration and the undying gratitude of the men of the 41st. Over trails hardly wide enough for a man to walk, skirting cliffs often five hundred feet high, they carried the wounded safely and gently. Always there was the soothing comment, "Sorry, Boss" at the slightest jolt of the litter. (McCartney, p. 55)
A week later it was the 3rd Battalion's turn.
After the 1st Battalion of the 162nd Infantry had secured the Nassau Bay area and had moved inland for the fight on Bitoi Ridge and Mount Tambu, the 3d Battalion, under the command of the colorful, intrepid Major (Later Lieutenant Colonel) Archie Roosevelt, son of the late President Roosevelt, came ashore on 6 July. This unit set up defenses on the Nassau beachhead and patrolled north of Salus Inlet. Patrolling activities continued for about two weeks but only light contacts were made with the enemy. Part of Company I hand-carried supplies to the 1st Battalion on Bitoi Ridge when the supply problem was critical there. (McCartney, p. 61)
Plans were made to occupy the high ground overlooking Tambu Bay.
Companies I and L moved out on the morning of 18 July. Information regarding a secret trail which was supposed to alow Company I to reach its objective by late afternoon was erroneous, and due to the rugged terrain encountered two days were required for the march. At the end of the first day, rations were almost gone, many men's shoes were unserviceable and the company was a day's march from its objective. (McCartney, p. 61)
They finally reached a swamp south of the village of Boisi on Tamby Bay at nine o'clock on the evening of the 20th.
The battalion caught hell getting into Tambu Bay. The Japs, strongly entrenched on Roosevelt Ridge, threw everything at the Sunsetters while other Jap forces on towering Scout Track Ridge, to the left of the battalion, raked them with withering enfilade fire. Despite this heavy enemy resistance, and with the aid of their own artillery, the men of the 3d Battalion edged slowly ahead and established a command post at the base of Roosevelt Ridge... (McCartney, p. 61)
For the next three weeks Companies K and L made repeated assaults on Roosevelt Ridge but made little progress. The 2nd Battalion was brought in to help. Meanwhile Company I attempted to clear the Japanese off Scout Track Ridge. (Much of this account is from an article by 1st/Sgt. M. H. Kelley.)
Four days after K and L's first push on Roosevelt Ridge 26 July, we got orders to follow Scout Ridge to where it seemed to intersect Roosevelt Ridge and the Jap army. Led by black Papuan Infantry, we labored heavily armed up Scout Ridge. A native guide raced down the column shouting, "Smellum Yapan!" An Arisaka cracked. Paul Rober fell dead of a bullet. The Japs volleyed with mortars, rifles, MGs. We blew them back, killed 7. The Japs dragged off other dead. (Kelley, p. 88)
The next day they pushed on to a high point on the ridge, which they named Bald Knob, and dug in.
On 28 July, the Japs attacked — out of nowhere. They charged uphill, shrieked, called insults in English. An amplifier with an Orient record weirdly heartened their charge. Our MG's, rifles, grenades blasted them back. But we had heavy losses — especially 2 Papuans who panicked from the holes. That night we learned that muzzle flashes made us targets; we began using grenades for night-fighting.
From 27 July-3 Aug., "I" withstood nightly attacks from infantry. But at dark 3 Aug. came new terror — boom of shell, eerie whistle, crash in perimeter, moans. It was their 70 mm "Whistling Charlie." Then infantry howled, drove in. Sgt. Rush, among others, was wounded; but we lobbed in mortars, rolled grenades, beat them. (Kelley, p. 88)
From then until the 12th of August, they held Bald Knob, but not without daily trouble.
Meanwhile the rest of the 3rd Battalion, reinforced by the 2nd, had made some progress on Roosevelt Ridge, but the Japanese were too well entrenched. Infantry attacks couldn't budge them; it was time to try something different.
The day for the attack on Roosevelt Ridge was a brilliantly clear one. Task Force Headquarters was crowded with officers, men and war correspondents. Though the imminent show was classified top secret, word was passing through the ranks that something out of the ordinary was brewing.... All of the guns at the disposal of the commander of Royal Artillery were ordered to turn their far distant barrels toward Roosevelt Ridge.... At about 1315 the jungles north, south, and west of Roosevelt Ridge shook and shivered to the sustained blast.... Scores of guns — 75mm howitzers, Aussie 25-pounders, 20mms, Bofors, light and heavy machine guns, even small arms — had opened up simultaneously on the enemy-held ridge. A score or more Allied fighters and bombers had swooped low to strafe its dome and tons of bombs released from the B-24s and B-25s fell straight and true, to detonate, shatter, rip and tear and to deliver certain death at that moment on an August afternoon. Those who watched from the beach saw the top fourth of the ridge lift perceptibly into the air and then fall into the waiting sea. In a scant twenty minutes all that remained of the objective was a denuded, redly scarred hill over which infantrymen already were clambering, destroying what remained of a battered and stunned enemy. (McCartney, p. 63)
Roosevelt Ridge was taken, but there were a series of smaller ridges beyond, and three more miles of the Scout Track between the 162nd and Salamaua. The men of Company I picked up where they had left off.
After a brief relief 13 Aug. while other outfits took Roosevelt Ridge, we went back to fight Scout Ridge — but this time from a different side. As we moved inland from the shambles of Roosevelt Ridge, MG's struck our first scouts. Trying to spot gunners, Lt. Gordon took a sniper bullet in the thigh. (Kelley, p. 89)
They pushed on, fighting day after day. They were down to 51 men and four officers.
For 2 weeks after 16 Aug., "I" held in grenade range of Japs, broke their attacks nightly. Without men for offense, we gave them no rest. Our alert snipers spotted movements, squeezed triggers. Strong-armed throwers lobbed grenades; mortars hit them, always unexpected. But among others, we lost Thomas to a direct mortar hit. (Kelley, p. 89)
By the 10th of September the 3rd Batallion had reached Logui Point on Bayern Bay. The next day they received orders to cross the Francisco River and storm Salamaua.
A small group of officers and men, deciding to test what the Japs would offer at Salamaua, walked into the Francisco River on 12 September and deliberately, although apprehensively, forded the stream. Not a shot greeted this group as it waded through the water and climbed out on the opposite bank. Just the previous day the Japs had been throwing out some heavy artillery fire but now the guns were silent. The Japs had fled. (McCartney, p. 66)
The rest of the battalion crossed the river and Salamaua came under Allied control. It hardly seemed worth it.
When the Japs had overrun Salamaua in their southward march in 1942 it had been a lovely place on a beautiful, land-locked harbor. When they gave it up, it was a filthy, rat-ridden, pestilential hole. Rotting corpses sent up a vile stench and rats as big as small dogs roamed all over the place. (McCartney, p. 66)
Company I, and the 162nd Infantry, had proven themselves. Together with the rest of the 41st Division, they had earned a new nickname — the Jungleers.
The Salamaua campaign from Nassau Bay through Tambu Bay, Roosevelt Ridge and Scout Track had taken seventy-six days of fighting over as difficult military terrain as the United States Army has ever encountered. From start to finish there had been no let-up, day or night, in the heavy fighting, small skirmishes and patrolling. The 162nd Infantry had received its baptism of battle and moved nearly two hundred miles from Sanananda Point to Salamaua. It had recaptured more ground for the Allies than had any other force since Pearl Harbor. (McCartney, p. 66)
And yet, in the final analysis, it was all a ruse. John Miller, Jr., the U.S. Army's official historian, concluded:
Salamaua was not an important objective, but MacArthur and Blamey ordered the 3d Australian Division with the MacKechnie Force attached to press against it for purposes of deception. They wanted the Japanese to believe that Salamaua and not Lae was the real objective, and so to strengthen Salamaua at Lae's expense. (Miller, p. 190)
The cost was not cheap. On 29 June there were 2,554 men in the 162d Infantry. By 12 September battle casualties and disease had reduced the regiment to 1,763 men. One hundred and two had been killed, 447 wounded. The 162d estimated it had killed 1,272 Japanese and reported the capture of 6 prisoners.
The Japanese had lost Salamaua after a stiff fight and the very strength of their defense had played into Allied hands, for of the ten thousand enemy soldiers in the Lae-Salamaua area, the majority had been moved to Salamaua. The Allied ruse had succeeded. (Miller, pp. 201-202)
On the 25th of September the 162nd Infantry boarded landing craft and returned to Oro Bay where they received new clothes and spent a few days doing nothing but bathing, eating, and cleaning up. On the 3rd of October they returned to Australia. Or, as Sergeant Kelley put it, to "long-legged blondes, steak and eggs, Aussie pubs, Melbourne furloughs. We had won our first battle." (Kelley, p. 90)