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New Georgia


Digital relief map of
      New Georgia

New Georgia is an island about halfway up the Solomons chain. At 45 miles in length from northwest to southeast, it is the largest island of the New Georgia group, which also includes Kolombangara, Rendova (with its 3400-foot or 1000-meter peak), and Vella Lavella. Its north coast is protected by an almost continuous coral reef. However, there are passes through the south reef into Blanche Channel, an unusually deep (600 fathoms or 1100 meters at points) protected body of water. Blanche Bay itself was accessible only from the southeast, its western entrance being blocked by reefs and islets. There were good anchorages on the northwest coast, facing Kolombangara across Kula Gulf, at Bairoko Harbor, Enogai Inlet, and Rice Anchorage. There were also anchorages on the southeast coast, at Segi Point and Viru Harbor. There was also a good anchorage at Wickham Anchorage on the east coast of Vangunu Island just east of New Georgia. However, the best natural anchorage in the group was at Rendova Harbor northwest of the island. The terrain is mostly rugged, jungle-clad hills. The climate is even hotter and more damp than that of Guadalcanal, and malaria is rampant.

When war broke out, the only Western settlement was the Lambeti copra plantation at Munda Point, across from Rendova, where there was also a Methodist mission. The native tribes were on good terms with the British colonials and sided with the Allies during the war. There was no transport network more sophisticated than native trails and most travel between settlements was by boat or canoe. The British administration was centered at Gizo Island southwest of Kolombangara, which was selected for its relatively healthy climate and low incidence of malaria.

The Japanese reconnoitered New Georgia in October 1942, and two rifle companies and two antiaircraft battalions arrived to occupy Munda Point on 13 November. Construction troops landed on 21 November and began construction of an airfield, completing a 4700' (1430 meter) airstrip on 17 December. This was used as a staging field during the Guadalcanal campaign. The defenses of the New Georgia group were placed under Southeast Detachment (Sasaki; at Vila) on 31 May 1943 and consisted of 8 Combined SNLF and 38 Division, with joint Army-Navy forces organized to the lowest echelons. The forces actually on New Georgia included 6 Kure SNLF and 229 Regiment.

Munda Point was protected by reefs (Munda Bar) that made direct amphibious assault impractical with the landing craft available in 1943. Hence, the American campaign against Munda required landings at some distance and a long slog through the jungle.

Operation TOENAILS


Photograph of Army troops moving through the jungle on New
        Georgia

U.S. Army. Via Wikipedia

Planning for the New Georgia campaign (Operation TOENAILS) began in January 1943, and the invasion received formal approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 29 March 1943. Admiral Turner, in command of III Amphibious Force, planned to seize four points on 30 June 1943: Wickham Anchorage on Vangunu, just southeast of New Georgia (158.058E 8.741S); Segi Point on the southeast tip of New Georgia (157.876E 8.579S); Viru Harbor, a short distance west of Segi Point (157.727E 8.498S); and Rendova Island, south-southeast of Munda Point (157.328E 8.414S). A fighter airstrip for local air cover would be rapidly constructed at Segi, a forward base and heavy artillery would be emplaced at Rendova opposite Munda Point, and Wickham Anchorage and Viru Harbor would act as staging points for small craft supporting the buildup on Rendova. The Americans could then carry out the main landings near Munda at a time and manner of their own choosing, though the expectation was that these would take place on about D+4. At about the same time, a small force would be landed near Enogai (157.299E 8.175S) to cut off the Japanese supply line from Kolombangara at Bairoko (157.266E 8.194S). The main landing force would be build around 43 Division (Hester), 9 Marine Defense Battalion, and two battalions of Marine Raiders, with 37 Division in reserve on five days' notice.

An important innovation in this landing was that BGEN Francis Mulcahy was designated as Commander, New Georgia Air Force, which was placed under Turner. Mulcahy would take control of all aircraft launched from Guadalcanal and the Russells to support the landings, and then command the air squadrons based at Segi Point and Munda once those fields were operating in American hands.

Prior to the main landings, Vogel sent four teams of twelve Marine Raiders each to reconnoiter the New Georgia group. The men arrived at Segi Point by PBY on 17 March 1943, where they joined coast watcher Donald G. Kennedy, who provided them with native scouts. The Raiders carefully reconnoitered the islands and returned to Segi Point on 9 April with abundant intelligence.  Meanwhile the American commanders had carefully prepared the logistics for TOENAILS. During February Operation DRYGOODS had moved 54,273 tons of basic supplies, 13,085 tons of gear, and 23,775 drums of fuel and lubricants to Guadalcanal, which also had storage tanks for nearly 80,000 barrels of gasoline. The Americans planned to build up three units of fire and thirty days of supply at Rendova and five units of fire and thirty days of supply at the other landing points within days of the landings.

However, Kennedy's guerrilla campaign sufficiently irritated the Japanese that they sent an infantry company to hunt him down, and Turner felt compelled to send two companies of 4 Marine Raider Battalion on a scratch mission to Segi Point to reinforce Kennedy. The Raiders arrived on 20 June 1943 in two destroyer-transports that braved the poorly charted passage to Segi Point, then slipped back out to return to Guadalcanal. Two more destroyer-transports arrived the next day with a company of 103 Regiment and naval surveying specialists to begin laying out the airstrip.

Beginning on 25 June, the Americans attempted to isolate the battlefield with air strikes against Munda, Vila, the airfields on Bougainville, and any Japanese shipping discovered in the area. Fighters swept the area by day and "Black Cat" Catalinas patrolled at night.  Fife's submarines would patrol north of the Intertropical Convergence for any approaching Japanese force.

Main Landings. On 30 June the main landings took place. Cover was provided by a combined bombardment and mine laying mission against the Shortland Islands the previous evening by Merrill's task force. 172 Regimental Combat Team and an artillery unit were landed at Rendova Island, across a narrow strait from Munda and within artillery range of Munda Field and likely future landing beaches. Scouting forces were also landed on the barrier islands southeast of Munda. Although miserable weather and heavy surf made for a confused landing, the Rendova landings were opposed by just 300 Japanese  troops, whose commander was killed almost at once and who were quickly overcome. Coastal batteries at Munda expected the landings to occur there and did not open fire until it became clear the landings were to be at Rendova. Destroyer Gwin was damaged and withdrew and the batteries were silenced by destroyer gunfire.

The Japanese surface force at Rabaul was so inferior to the U.S. forces that it did not engage, but there were a number of air raids against the American forces. A fighter sweep at 1115 by 27 Zeros was took heavy losses from American fighters. A much larger strike at 1550 by 25 Bettys and 24 Zekes was also jumped by American fighters, but a few Bettys managed to break through and attack Turner's retiring transports. McCawley was hit in the engine room but 17 of the Bettys were shot down. A subsequent attack by eight Vals was unsuccessful and three were shot down.

The Segi Point landings were uneventful, and by nightfall 47 Seabee Battalion was beginning work on an airstrip that would be functional within two weeks. The landing at Viru was thwarted by a 3" coastal gun that the Marine Raiders from Segi Point had been unable to put out of action. These troops were diverted to Segi Point, and Viru was taken the next day by the Raiders with the help of heavy air support. The Wickham landings, which came ashore at Oleana Bay (157.996E 8.765S), were misdirected in the darkness and lost several landing craft, but were fortunately unopposed. The landing force then marched overland to take the Japanese garrison at Kaeruka (158.034E 8.751S) from the rear, securing the anchorage on 3 July.

McCawley was in very poor shape, and Turner was discussing whether to scuttle the ship when two torpedo hits settled the matter. These were fired by American PT boats that had been told that there would be no American units in Blanche Channel.

American order of battle

3 Fleet (Halsey; at Noumea)     

 
TF 31 Amphibious Force (Turner and Hester)     


 
Task Group 31.1 Western Group (Turner



 
 
Rendova Attack Unit
Carrying two companies of 169 Regiment assigned to secure the entrance islets to Blanche Channel





APD Talbot






APD Zane




Rendova Advance Unit
Carrying two companies of 172 Regimental Combat Team





APD Dent






APD Waters



1 Echelon (Turner)
Carrying most of 172 Regimental Combat Team




Transport Unit (Turner)





 
AK McCawley Crippled by aircraft and sunk by friendly fire





AK Arcturus






AP President Jackson






AP President Adams






AP President Hayes






AK Algorab




Destroyer Screen






DD Farenholt






DD Buchanan





DD McCalla





DD Ralph Talbot






DD Gwin Damaged by coastal batteries





DD Woodworth





DD Radford






DD Jenkins



New Georgia Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron     





12 PTs




2 Echelon
Carrying a reinforced battalion of U.S. Army troops




3 LST





6 LCI




3 Echelon
Also included Zane, Dent, and Waters from Rendova Attack Unit. Carrying approximately a battalion of New Zealand troops.




APD Stringham





APD McKean




APD Kilty




APD Schley




APD Crosby




4 LST



4 Echelon
Carrying a reinforced battalion of U.S. Army troops




2 LST




6 LCI



Reserve Motor Torpedo Group





12 PTs



Service Unit





AT Vireo





AT Rail




Two supply barges



Task Group 31.3 Eastern Group (Fort)




Viru Occupation Unit
Built around B Company, 103 Regiment




1 Echelon
Also Zane from Rendova Unit and Kilty and Crosby from 3 Echelon





DMS Hopkins





2, 3, and 4 Echelons: Each 1 APc, 2-3 LCT     




Task Unit 31.3.2 Segi Point Occupation Unit
Two companies each from 4 Marine Raider Battalion and 103 Regiment plus 20 Naval Construction Battalion




4 echelons: each 1 APc, 2-4 LCT, 5 LCI




Wickham Anchorage Occupation Unit (Fort) Carrying 2 Battalion, 103 Regiment and two companies of 4 Marine Raider Battalion.




1 Echelon (Fort) Also McKean and Schley of 3 Echelon





DMS Trever






7 LCI





2, 3, and 4 Echelons: Each 1 APc, 1-4 LCT     





Russel Islands Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron






12 PTs

Task Force 33 Air Force South Pacific (Fitch)



Solomon Islands Air Force (Mitscher; at Henderson Field)     




258 fighters




193 bombers




82  heavy bombers




Air Search Unit (at Tulagi and Santa Cruz)





PBY Squadrons 23, 44, and 77


Task Force 36 Covering Force (Halsey)
Standing by but did not become involved in combat operations


Support Group A (Ainsworth)




3 CL
5 DD



Support Group B (Merrill)




4 CL
4 DD
4 AM



Support Group C (Ramsey)




2 CV
2 CLAA
4 DD



Two battleship divisions (Davis and Hill)



11 SS



A number of CVEs

Japanese order of battle

Southeast Area Fleet (Kusaka; at Rabaul)     
Only the aircraft became involved in combat operations
 
1 cruiser 


8 destroyers


8 submarines     


66 bombers


83 fighters
Including Army Ki-43 Oscars from 1 Air Regiment

6 Kure SNLF (at Bairoko, New Georgia)

17 Army (Hyakutake; at Buin)


13 Regiment (at Kolombangara)


Southeast Detachment (Sasaki; at Munda)     


 
229 Regiment
About 3000 men


2 Battalion, 45 Regiment (at Bairoko)
From 6 Division


10 Independent Mountain Artillery Regiment



15 Air Defense Unit


On 2 July Kusaka staged a raid with 24  Japanese Army bombers and 24 Army fighters joined by 20 Zeros. American air cover was grounded by bad weather in the southern Solomons, and the raiders used Rendova Peak to shield themselves from radar, achieving complete surprise. 59 men were killed and 77 wounded and there was considerable material damage, including the destruction of the newly established base hospital. That night, light cruiser Yubari and nine destroyers entered Blanche Channel and bombarded the new base, but their spotting was highly inaccurate and no significant damage was done. The Japanese force was engaged by PT boats without effect.

There had been no final decision where to land the Munda assault force before TOENAILS began, but reconnaissance patrols reported that Lahaina beach (157.293E 8.334S), two miles east of Munda, was heavily fortified, while Zanana beach (157.327E 8.307S), five miles from Munda, was undefended. Advance units of 43 Division (Hester) began coming ashore on 2 July and the main assault was planned for 5 July at Zanana. The supply buildup had meanwhile been shifted to the barrier islands, which had firm coral terrain more suitable for supply dumps than the muddy terrain on Rendova.

However, the Japanese also decided to reinforce, setting out from the Shortlands with 1200 men from 13 and 229 Regiments on three destroyers on 4 July 1943. This force ran into an American force under Ainsworth, which had just landed 2600 troops at Rice Anchorage (157.318E 8.129S), on the northwest coast of New Georgia south of Kula Gulf. Ainsworth's force consisted of seven destroyer-transports escorted by three light cruisers and nine destroyers. Strong was struck by a torpedo launched at extreme range by the Japanese destroyers, which had been warned of the American presence when Ainsworth ordered a bombardment of Vila. The Japanese destroyers fled without landing their troops.

The Northern Force landed at Rice Anchorage consisted of three battalions from three different regiments: 3 Battalion, 145 Regiment; 3 Battalion, 148 Regiment; and 1 Marine Raider Battalion. The landing beaches were cleared by friendly natives, who also began cutting two trails to the Japanese stronghold at Enogai to supplement the one existing trail. A substantial part of 3/148 Regiment were landed too far north and would take days to catch up with the remainder of the force as it moved southwest towards Enogai.

Battle of Kula Gulf. The Japanese sent a second transport force with 3000 men the next night, 5 July 1943. The Japanese move was detected by American intelligence and Halsey ordered Ainsworth to return to Kula Gulf. In the battle that followed, the Japanese sank light cruiser Helena in exchange for the loss of two destroyers. The Japanese were able to get 850 of their reinforcements ashore at Vila before withdrawing, which allowed Sasaki to move one of his battalions from Vila to Munda.

The Campaign Stalls. The Northern Force drove off a Japanese patrol and 1 Marine Raider Battalion seized the village of Triri (157.300E 8.190S) on Enogai Inlet on 7 July; then, fearing a counterattack from 6 Kure SNLF, the Marines dug in and awaited desperately needed supplies. Meanwhile 3/148 Regiment established a roadblock on what they took to be the main trail from Bairoko to Munda. It would be nine days before the Americans realized that the Japanese were using a rail further to the west and withdrew their roadblock. On 11 July Enogai was taken, and supplies could now come in by ship.


Photograph of Army troops moving along the Munda Trail

U.S. Army. Via ibiblio.org

Meanwhile the attack on Munda was bogging down. The terrain between Zanana and Munda was a chaotic jumble of streams, ravines, and rocky hills covered with a dense tangle of jungle. 43 Division was a National Guard unit with no prior combat experience, and entire columns were held up by individual snipers. 3 Battalion, 169 Regiment performed particularly poorly, failing to properly secure its perimeter at night. By 9 July the two attacking regiments had run up against the main Japanese defenses, and a major attack scheduled for that morning bogged down almost before it had begun in spite of heavy artillery and air support. 169 Regiment made little progress against a belt of pillboxes across two ridges, between which the main trail from Zanana and Munda ran. While 172 Regiment gained some ground on the 10th, it too was soon bogged down. 169 Regiment began to suffer a high incidence of combat fatigue, much of which may have been literal exhaustion.

The supply situation was parlous, with nearly half the combat troops in the two attacking regiments diverted to bringing up supplies from Zanana. In order to shorten his supply lines, Hester decided on 11 July to send 172 Regiment to secure Laiana from the rear while169 Regiment continued the advance. Morison (1950) regards this as the worst decision of the campaign, arguing that Hester should have used either his reserves on Rendova or the beach force at Zanana to carry out a landing with full air and naval gunfire support. Instead, Sasaki correctly guessed the American intentions, and both regiments were fought to a halt.

The Americans attempted to break the deadlock on the night of 11-12 July 1943 by hitting the Japanese lines with a heavy bombardment from Merrill's task force. Merrill fired for forty minutes and layed down 3204 rounds of 6" (152mm) and 5470 rounds of 5" (127mm) shells. The bombardment accomplished little. Merrill had been ordered to bombard no closer than a mile to the Japanese lines, which gave a large margin of safety to both U.S. troops and the Japanese facing them. The bombardment was not followed up by an attack for hours, so its shock value was wasted. The next day, 172 Regiment was still a half mile from Laiana when it was cut off from 169 Regiment by Japanese infiltrators.

Battle of Kolombangara. Meanwhile Sasaki had received 16 barges full of reinforcements, and on the night of 12-13 July another 1200 troops were dispatched by destroyer-transports to New Georgia. The move was picked up by American intelligence and Ainsworth was dispatched from Tulagi to intercept. In the resulting battle, the Japanese lost a light cruiser in exchange for an American destroyer and damage to several other ships, and the Japanese were able to land 1200 troops on the west coast of Kolombangara.

The next day 172 Regiment finally cleared Laina, which allowed reinforcements and supplies to be brought in, including combat engineers and a company of Marine tanks. But by then a full battalion of Sasaki's troops had dug in between 172 Regiment and 169 Regiment. Although 3/169 Regiment finally took Reincke Ridge (157.287E 8.322S), the heavily fortified ridge south of the main trail, on 13 July, the battalion was barely able to hold this key position against ferocious Japanese counterattacks. During the first 24 hours after seizing the ridge, the battalion suffered 101 casualties. The whole regiment was on the verge of collapse, with meager supplies coming in over a contested trail and by parachute drop.

Change in Command. At this point, Hester's immediate superior, Oscar Griswold, arrived to evaluate the situation. Learning of a large number of casualties from friendly fire and combat fatigue, and seeing the attack clearly bogged down, Griswold urged Halsey to send in immediate reinforcements. Halsey responded by ordering two additional American divisions, 25 and 37 Divisions, to New Georgia. Halsey also sent his top Army commander, Mark Harmon, to New Georgia with orders to do whatever was necessary to take Munda. By Harmon concluded that new leadership was needed. Hester had already relieved the commander of 169 Regiment and one of its battalion commanders, but now the ax would fall on Hester himself.  On 15 July Harmon ordered Griswold to relieve Hester as commander of the New Georgia Occupation Force and establish XIV Corps headquarters at Rendova. At about the same time, Turner was rotated out of the theater, and Ted Wilkinson took his place as amphibious force commander.

The change in the command structure addressed a problem that arguably should never have arisen in the first place. Hester had been expected simultaneously command the entire New Georgia Occupation Force and 43 Division with a single headquarters staff. With Griswold now in place as a corps commander, Hester could focus on fighting his division. However, Hester would eventually lose his division command as well, being relieved by Hodge on 29 July after Harmon concluded that Hester was completely exhausted.

That same day, there was a fierce air battle over Rendova. The effects of attrition on the quality of the Japanese air forces was evident as 40 Japanese planes were destroyed but only 3 American planes were lost.

Like the Americans, the Japanese had sent reinforcements to New Georgia. 13 Regiment had been brought in by transport from Kolombangara, had evaded the Marine roadblock at Enogai, and had begun assembling deep in the jungle north of the poorly guarded right flank of the American forces. Although American patrols had identified the presence of 13 Regiment troops north of the battle zone, the significance of this development was not fully appreciated at first.

On 16 July, 1/169 Regiment succeeded in taking Kelley Hill, just west of Reincke Ridge, but by the next morning the battalion was nearly surrounded by 3/229 Regiment. Sasaki, sensing victory on the ground, had launched a major counterattack. 229 Regiment attacked the American front line to pin the Americans down while the newly arrived 13 Regiment hooked around the American flank, cutting the trail to Zanana and raiding the rear areas of 43 Division. Griswold responded by deploying the newly arrived 148 Regiment, 38 Division (Beightler), to Zanana, and by 20 July contact was reestablished with 169 Regiment.

The blocking force at Enogai had also stalled in its efforts to cut the communications between Munda and Vila. An attack on 20 July failed to receive the expected air support and was driven back. However on 21 July, after receiving massive air support from 250 aircraft from Guadalcanal, the Raiders finally enveloped the Japanese at Bairoko and cut the supply line. The Raiders were reinforced and resupplied on 24 July by a convoy escorted by Commander Arleigh Burke. This gave the Raiders sufficient strength to hold their roadblocks, but not to advance on Munda by the back door.

Griswold launched a new offensive on 25 July 1943, after road construction eased the supply situation for his troops. The 43 and 37 Divisions were now ashore and led the assault, while the exhausted 169 Regiment was pulled into corps reserve. This began at dawn after Burke laid down a ferocious bombardment on the area in front of 43 Division. Some 4000 rounds were fired at a density of 70 shells per 1000 square yards. This was inadequate to root out the Japanese troops, some of whom escaped the bombardment by moving as close as possible to the Americans. After the battle, an investigation led by Admiral Wilkinson concluded that 200 shells per 1000 square yards was required for complete neutralization of enemy troops in field works. Only a direct hit was capable of taking out the stoutest Japanese bunkers.

Air support was also lavish in the days prior to the offensive. There were strikes almost every day by two or three squadrons of SBDs and TBFs dropping 2000lb, 1000lb, and 500lb bombs. However, the difficulties of close air support meant that the bombs were mostly dropped well behind the Japanese lines to avoid friendly fire casualties.

As a result, the attack that followed made slow progress in spite of support from flamethrowers and Marine tanks, which found they could not traverse the terrain. However, by 31 July, the Americans had overrun Shimizu Hill (157.284E 8.328S) and unhinged the Japanese line. The Allies counted no less than 46 log and coral pillboxes and 32 other positions on Bartley Ridge (157.284E 8.322S), which the Japanese finally abandoned on 28 July. Meanwhile 148 Regiment had ranged far to the north and west, but was forced to pull back under pressure from 13 Regiment.

On 1 August the American commanders began to see indications that the Japanese were pulling out. Griswold ordered out patrols, and when these discovered few signs of the enemy, he ordered a general advance. There was little resistance, and by the end of the day, 103 Regiment had advanced to the edge of Munda airstrip. The Japanese had in fact suffered far worse in the face of unremitting American bombardment than the Americans realized. Some Japanese rifle companies had been reduced to 20 men, and 229 Regiment was down to just 1245 men, with particularly heavy officer casualties. Unknown to the Americans, Sasaki had ordered a retreat three days earlier, instructing those men who could not retreat to fight to the death.

Photograph of Bibilo Hill

U.S. Army. Via ibiblio.org

The remaining center of Japanese resistance in the Munda area, Bibilo Hill north of the airstrip (157.261E 8.323S), did not fall until 5 August, when it was smothered with fire from mortars and 37mm guns. After nearby Kokengolo Hill (157.255E 8.327S) was subject to the same treatment, organized Japanese resistance in the Munda area was at an end.

Mopping up of Japanese survivors in the rest of the New Georgia group continued until 25 August 1943.  On 19 August the Japanese were cleared from Baanga Island (157.235E 8.297S), from which they had been dropping harassing fire on Munda, by 43 Division. On 24 August the small harbor at Bairoki was finally taken and Zieta (at the southwest extremity of the island) was cleared. On 27 August 172 Regiment landed on Arundel, the island on the south of Kula Gulf, repelling a counterattack on 15 September. Additional reinforcements were sent in and the island was cleared on 20 September.

American casualties were 1100 killed and almost 4000 wounded. The Japanese lost 2500 dead. The protracted New Georgia campaign forced the Americans to rethink their Solomons strategy. Halsey's next attack would leapfrog Kolombangara to land at weakly defended Vella Lavella, and the pattern of leapfrogging Japanese strong points would characterize Allied operations for the remainder of the war.

73 and 24 Naval Construction Battalions went to work on Munda airfield, which based VMF-123 and VMF-124 by 14 August. The main airstrip was extended to 6000' (1830 meters) and then 8000' (2440 meters) by December 1943. The airfield soon became the most important in the Solomon Islands. A 4500' (1370 meter) runway was built on Ondonga Island six miles (10 kilometers) north-northwest of Munda. All were closed in March 1945.

Photo Gallery


Airstrip at Segi Point, New Georgia

U.S. Army

Map of operations around Bairoko

U.S. Army

Map of advance on Munda

U.S. Army

Jeep road from Zanana

U.S. Army

Flamethrower attack on machine gun pillbox

NARA

Seabees inspect a dugout on Kokengolo Hill

USMC

Map of mopping up on New Georgia

U.S. Army

References

Gilbert (2001)

Miller (1959)
Morison (1950)

Rottman (2002)



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