TOP OF THE LADDER: Marine Operations in the Northern Solomons
by Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)
These were small affairs compared to the finale on
Bougainville. With the withdrawal of the 3d Marine Division at the end
of 1943, after it had successfully fought its way to the final defensive
line, the two Army divisions, the 37th Infantry and the Americal, took
over and extended the perimeter with only sporadic brushes with the
Then, in late February and early March 1944, patrols
began making "almost continuous" contact with the enemy. It appeared
that the Japanese were concentrating for a serious counterattack. On 8
March, the 145th Infantry (of the 37th) was hit by artillery fire. Then
the 6th Division, parent of the old enemy, the 23d
Infantry, attacked hard. It took five days of "very severe"
fighting, with support from a battalion of the 148th Infantry, combined
with heavy artillery fire and air strikes, to drive the determined
Japanese back. Meanwhile, the 129th Infantry had also been "heavily
attacked." The enemy kept coming and coming, and it was a full nine days
before there was a lull on 17 March.
On 24 March the Japanese, after reorganizing,
launched another series of assaults "with even greater pressure." This
time they also threw in three regiments of their 17th Division.
The artillery of both American divisions, guided by Cub spotter planes,
fired "the heaviest support mission ever to be put down in the South
Pacific Area." That broke the back of the enemy attackers, and the
battle finally was over on 25 March.
Major General Griswold, the corps commander, after
eight major enemy attacks, wrote in a letter four days later:
I am absolutely convinced that nowhere on earth does
there exist a more determined will and offensive spirit in the attack
than that the Japs exhibited here. They come in hard, walking on their
own dead, usually on a front not to exceed 100 yards. They try to effect
a break-through which they exploit like water running from a hose. When
stopped, they dig in like termites and fight to the death. They crawl up
even the most insignificant fold in the ground like ants. And they use
all their weapons with spirit and boldness . . . . Difficult terrain or
physical difficulties have no meaning for them.
The Americal Division had advanced along with the
37th in the March-April period with its last action 13-14 April. This
ended the serious offensive action for the two Army divisions; the enemy
had been driven well out of artillery range of the air strips, 12,000
For Americans this marked the end of the Bougainville
saga: a tale of well-trained units, filled with, determined, skillful
men, who fought their way to a resounding victory. The 3d Marine
Division had led the way in securing a vital island base with the
crucial isolation of Rabaul thus ensured.