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Noemfoor


Digital relief map of Noemfoor


Noemfoor (134.89E 1.04S) is a small island in Geelvink Bay in northwest New Guinea. It is located halfway between Biak and Manokwari and is about 11 miles (18 km) in diameter. The island was virtually undeveloped before the war, with a native population numbering about 5000 that were visited about twice a year by trading ships seeking copra and ironwood. There were no anchorages of any significance and the island was surrounded by a coral reef with a few small boat passages. Most of the coast to the north, south, and east was mangrove swamp. The island is relatively flat, with a maximum elevation of 670' (204 meters), but the terrain is somewhat broken in the south. The entire island is covered by jungle. The population was about 5000 persons.

The Japanese began developing airfields on the island in September 1943 as a link in their defensive perimeter. The native population fled into the hills to avoid conscription as laborers, and the Japanese brought in some 3000 laborers from Java. The Javanese were very poorly treated and only 403 were still alive when the Allies finished capturing the island. However, the Javanese had completed three airfields by that time. Two of these (Kamiri and Kornasoren) were located on the north shore while the third (Namber) was located on the southwestern coast. The first two had 5000' (1520 meter) runways while Namber had a 4000' (1220 meter) runway.

The garrison in June 1944 consisted of about 2000 troops, mostly from 219 and 222 Regiments plus a hodgepodge of service troops.

The Battle of Noemfoor. MacArthur ordered the invasion of Noemfoor on 14 June 1944, with a target date of 30 June. This was later moved back to 2 July. The landing force of 7,000 men was built around 158 Regiment and commanded by Edwin Patrick, the chief of staff of 6 Army. The regiment was then at Wakde and was relieved by 6 Division to participate in the assult. The landing force also included 27 Engineer Battalion and 62 Works Wing (RAAF) to make the airfields operational as quickly as possible. The transport force was commanded by W.M. Fechteler and was organized into three groups: 40 LCMs manned by 3 Engineer Special Brigade from Finschhafen, eight LCTs escorted by 3 PCs from Wakde, and a group of LCIs.

Krueger, commander of 6 Army, gave away tactical surprise by sending a large force of Alamo Scouts to Noemfoor on 22-23 June without informing Fechteler. The Japanese detected the Scouts and drove them off before they could gather much intelligence. The Japanese garrison commander, Colonel Shimizu, promptly concentrated his troops at Kamiri and began planting minefields. Fortunately for the Americans, this had the effect of putting the Japanese precisely in the crosshairs of the massive preliminary bombardment, which would be carried out by five cruisers and 25 destroyers. Air support began with preliminary raids on 20 June against both Noemfoor itself and other Japanese airfields in the Vogelkop Peninsula. There was little opposition; 23 Air Flotilla had been pulled out to reinforce the Marianas.

The preliminary bombardment was credited with being remarkably effective, as  Japanese troops encountered ashore appeared to be stunned and were slaughtered by American small arms fire. However, it is likely the Japanese were also half-starved from lack of supplies. By nightfall on 2 July, the Americans had landed 7100 troops, almost 500 vehicles, and 2250 tons of supplies. Kamiri airfield was easily taken and was ready for Allied aircraft on 6 July.

The only serious Allied mishap of the battle came on 3 July. Patrick requested reinforcements of American paratrooops on the basis of mistaken intelligence from prisoner interrogations that a force of 3000 Japanese reinforcements had landed on Noemfoor a week before the Allied landings. The first battalion of of 503 Parachute Regiment dropped over Kamiri airstrip from aircraft flying two abreast, but the airstrip had not been cleared of vehicles and numerous paratroopers were injured by landings on top of bulldozers, trucks, and other vehicles. The two lead planes also came in at too low an altitude, due to faulty altimeters, and the parachutes of their passengers barely had time to deploy before the passengers hit the hard coral runway. The battalion suffered 72 casualties. Another battalion dropped the next day from aircraft flying in single file at the proper altitude over a properly cleared runway, but the battalion still suffered 56 casualties from landings on the hard surface. The third battalion drop was canceled and the battalion was brought in in LCIs. The casualties were completely unnecessary, both because the intelligence was incorrect and because 34 Regiment with a full complement of heavy weapons was just ten hours sailing distance away at Biak.

Kornasoren airfield was secured on 4 July 1944. The same evening, the Japanese staged their only organized counterattack, which struck the American troops advancing on Nambur and was easily repelled by 0630 the next morning. On 6 July a battalion of troops was transported in 20 LCMs from the main beachhead to Nambur, where the airfield was siezed without opposition.

Following the devastating preliminary bombardment, the Japanese commander had ordered his troops to retreat to the east side of the island for possible evacuation. The retreat turned into a rout, and although the paratroopers assigned to mopping up duty had some difficulty pinning down the main body of Japanese with Colonel Shimizu, the remaining survivors, some 200 strong, were trapped against the southeast coast by mid-August. The island was declared secure on 31 August 1944. Total Allied casualties in the Noemfoor campaign were 66 killed or missing and 343 wounded. Some 1900 Japanese became casualties, including 186 prisoners of war. The Americans also captured about 550 Formosan and 403 Javanese laborers. Colonel Shimizu himself was never found.

The native population came out of hiding from the deep interior in late July and made contact with Dutch civilian adminstrators. Their chiefs declared war on Japan and subsequently gave some assistance to the Allied mopping up operation.

Allied order of battle, 22 April 1944

Southwest Pacific Area (MacArthur)     

 
7 Fleet (Kinkaid)


 
Task Force 77 (Barbey)



 
DD Swenson




Task Group 77.2 Transport Force (Fechteler)     
158 Regimental Combat Team (Patrick)
27 Engineer Battalion
62 Works Wing




DD Reid





LCM Group
3 Engineer Special Brigade





40 LCM





LCT Group






8 LCT
3 PC





LCI Group






2 LCI





Screen






DD Hobby





DD Nicholson





DD Wilkes





DD Grayson





DD Gillespie





DD Stevenson





DD Stockton





DD Roe






DD Welles





DD Radford






DD La Vallette


Task Force 74 Covering Group "A" (Crutchley)




CA Australia




CA Shropshire




DD Warramunga




DD Arunta



DD Ammen



DD Mullany


Task Force 75 Covering Force "B" (Berkey)




CL Phoenix




CL Nashville



CL Boise



Destroyer Squadron 24





DD Hutchins




DD Bache




DD Daly




DD Abner Read





DD Bush


Task Force 73 Aircraft Seventh Fleet



Task Group 73.1 Seeadler Harbor Group




AV Tangier




AVP Heron




AVP San Pablo




VP-33 13 PBY-5




VP-52 13 PBY-5




VB-106 11 PB4Y-1 Liberator



Task Group 73.2 Langemak Bay Group




AVP Half Moon




VP-34 10 PBY-5

Following the Allied victory, Kamiri airfield was readied for aircraft on 6 July1944. Its runway was later extended to 5400' (1645 meters). Nambur was abandoned while Kornasoren was completed with a 7000' (2135 meter) runway on 27 July. A second 7000' runway was completed in August.


References
Morison (1953)

Rottman (2002)


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