Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Two Secondary Landings
MacArthur's Marines
The Japanese in Western New Britain
Establishing the Beachhead
The Capture of the Cape Gloucester Airfields
Clearing the Shores of Borgen Bay
The Mopping-up Begins in the West
The Landings at Volupai
Final Combat and Relief
Maj. Gen. William H. Rupertus
Special Subjects
The Fortress of Rabaul
The Jungle Battlefield
Rain and Biting Insects
An Improvised Air Force
New Weapons in the Division's Arsenal

Cape Gloucester: The Green Inferno
by Bernard C. Nalty

Final Combat and Relief

The flotilla of Army LCMs and Navy LCTs that supported the Volupai landings inflicted further damage on Japanese coastal traffic, already hard hit by air strikes. On 9 March, a convoy of landing craft carrying supplies around the tip of the peninsula for delivery to the advancing Marines at Talasea spotted four enemy barges, beached and sloppily camouflaged. An LCT took the barges under fire from its 20mm cannon and machine guns, destroying one of the Japanese craft. Later that day, two LCMs used the 37mm gun of the Marine light tank that each was carrying, to fire upon another barge beached on the peninsula.

The enemy tried to make the best possible use of the dwindling number of barges, but the bulk of Matsuda's troops moved overland, screened by Terunuma's men during the transit of the base of the Willaumez Peninsula. About a hundred Japanese dug in at Garilli, but by the time Company K of Deakin's 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, attacked on 11 March, the enemy had fallen back to a new trail block about three miles distant. For four days, the Marines fought a succession of sharp actions, as the Japanese retreated a few hundred yards at a time, dragging with them a 75mm gun that anchored each of the blocking positions. On 16 March, Deakin himself joined Company K, arriving in an LCM that also carried a section of 81mm mortars. The Japanese turned their cannon seaward to deal with this threat but failed to hit the landing craft. Shortly after the Marine mortars landed and went into action, Terunuma's men again withdrew, but this time they simply faded away, since the bulk of Matsuda Force had escaped to the east.

Having secured the Red Beach-Garua Bay-Talasea area, the 5th Marines dispatched patrols southward to the base of the Willaumez Peninsula, capturing only the occasional straggler and confirming the departure of the main body of Matsuda's command. The 1st Marine Division established a comfortable headquarters, training sites, a hospital that utilized captured stocks of Japanese medicine, and a rest area that featured swimming off the Garua beaches and bathing in hot springs ashore. The Navy built a base on the Willaumez Peninsula for torpedo boats that harried the surviving Japanese barges. Unfortunately, on 27 March, the second day the base was operating, Allied aircraft mistook two of the boats for Japanese craft and attacked, killing five sailors and wounding 18.

One of the courses taught at the new Garua training center sought to produce amphibious scouts for the division's future operations. The school's headquarters decided that a reconnaissance of Cape Hoskins would serve as a suitable graduation exercise, since aerial observers had seen no sign of enemy activity there. On 13 April, Second Lieutenant Richard R. Breen, accompanied by Lieutenant Marsland of the Royal Australian Air Force, embarked with 16 trainees, two native guides, and a rifle platoon from the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, in a pair of LCMs. While two instructors stood by in one of the landing craft, the platoon established a trail block, and the future scouts advanced toward the Cape Hoskins airfield, no longer used by the Japanese. En route to the objective, however, the patrol encountered fire from small arms and mortars, but the Marines had apparently learned their lessons well, for they succeeded in breaking off the action and escaped without suffering casualties.

hot springs
Before the building of a rest area at Garua Bay, with its hot springs and bathing beaches, these Marines relax in one of the crystal clear streams running into the sea from New Britain's mountainous interior. Department of Defense (USMC) photo 78381

Meanwhile, the Japanese retreat continued. Komori's troops, blazing the trail for Sato's command from Augitni to the northern coast, encountered a disheartening number of hungry stragglers as they marched toward a supply depot at Kandoka, roughly 10 miles west of the Willaumez Peninsula. Crossing the Kuhu River, Komori's soldiers came under ineffectual fire from an American landing craft. The rain-swollen Via River, broader than the Kuhu, proved a more serious obstacle, requiring a detour lasting two days to reach a point where the stream narrowed. Komori's provisions ran out on 17 March, forcing the soldiers to subsist on taro, birds and fish, and vegetables from village garden plots, supplemented by some welcome coconuts gathered from a plantation at Linga Linga. After losing additional time and a dozen lives crossing yet another river, the Kapaluk, Komori's troops straggled into Kandoka on the 24th, only to discover that the food and other supplies had been carried off toward Rabaul. Despite this crushing disappointment, Komori pressed on, his men continuing to live off the land as best they could. Five more men drowned in the fast-moving waters of the Kulu River, and a native hired as a guide defected. Already weakened physically, Komori came down with an attack of malaria, but he forced himself to continue.

The survivors struggled onward toward Cape Hoskins and ultimately Rabaul. On 9 April, Easter Sunday, four half-starved Japanese wandered onto the San Remo Plantation, where Gayle's battalion had bivouacked after pursuing the enemy eastward from the Willaumez Peninsula. The Marine unit was preparing to pass in review for the regimental commander later that day, when a sentry saw the intruders and opened fire. The ensuing skirmish killed three of the enemy. One of the dead proved to be Major Komori; his pack contained a rusty revolver and a diary describing the sufferings of his command.

Colonel Sato, with the rest of the rear guard for the Matsuda Force, set out from Augitni on 7 March, one day after Komori, who sent back word on the 19th that patrols from the 5th Marines had fanned out from the Willaumez Peninsula, where the reinforced regiment had landed almost two weeks earlier. When Sato reached Linga Linga and came across a bivouac abandoned by a Marine patrol, his force had dwindled to just 250 men, less than half the number that started out. He received a shock the following day when American landing craft appeared as his men prepared to cross the Kapaluk River. He immediately set up a perimeter to beat back the expected attack, but the boats were carrying elements of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, under Major Charles H. Brush, Jr. A patrol from Brush's Company F landed on a beach beyond Kandoka, the former site of a Japanese supply cache, and dispatched one platoon, led by First Lieutenant William C. Schleip, westward along the coastal track, even as Sato, aware only of the general location of the landing, groped eastward toward the village. On 26 March, the two collided, the Japanese surprising the Marines in the act of crossing a small stream and pinning them down for some three hours until the approach of reinforcements from Company F forced the enemy to break off the action, take to the jungle, and bypass Kandoka.

As the head of Sato's column disappeared in the jungle, one of the division's light airplanes, scouting landing sites for Brush's battalion, sighted the tail near Linga Linga. The pilot, Captain Petras, turned over the controls to Brigadier General Earl C. Long, also a pilot, sketched the location of the Japanese, and dropped the map to one of the troop-laden landing craft. Petras then led the way to an undefended beach, where Brush's Marines waded ashore and set out in pursuit of Sato. On 30 March, Second Lieutenant Richard B. Watkins, at the head of an eight-man patrol, spotted a pair of Japanese, their rifles slung, who turned out to be members of a 73-man patrol, far too many for Watkins to handle.

Once the enemy column had moved off, Watkins and his men hurried to Kandoka, where he reported to Major Brush and obtained mortars and machine guns before again taking to the trail. Brush followed, bringing a reinforced rifle platoon to increase the Marine fire power. Meanwhile, the Japanese encountered yet another Marine patrol, this one led by Sergeant Frank Chliek, which took up a position on high ground that commanded the trail. When they heard Chliek's group open fire, Watkins and Brush hurried to its aid; the resulting slaughter killed 55 Japanese, including Colonel Sato, who died sword in hand, but the Marines did not suffer even one casualty.

On 9 April, the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel Hankins, replaced Brush's 1st Battalion and continued the search for enemy stragglers. The bulk of the Matsuda Force, and whatever supplies it could transport, had by this time retreated to Cape Hoskins and beyond, and Army troops were taking over from the Marines. Almost four months had elapsed since the landing at Cape Gloucester; clearly the time had come for the amphibious troops to move on to an operation that would make better use of their specialized training and equipment. The final action fought by the Leathernecks took place on 22 April, when an ambush sprung by the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, killed 20 Japanese and resulted in the last Marine fatality of the campaign. In seizing western New Britain as part of the isolation of Rabaul, the division suffered 310 killed in action and 1,083 wounded, roughly one-fourth the estimated Japanese casualties.

Early in February 1944, after the capture of the Cape Gloucester airfields but before the landing at Volupai. General Rupertus, warned that his 1st Marine Division might remain on New Britain indefinitely. Having the unit tied down for an extended period alarmed the recently appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Vandegrift. "Six months there," he remarked, referring to an extended commitment in New Britain, "and it will no longer be a well-trained amphibious division." Vandegrift urged Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of Naval Operations, to help pry the division from MacArthur's grasp so it could again undertake amphibious operations. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, wanted the division for the impending invasion of the Palau Islands, the capture of which would protect the flank of MacArthur's advance to the Philippines. In order to obtain the Marines, Nimitz made the Army's 40th Infantry Division available to MacArthur, in effect swapping a division capable of taking over the New Britain campaign for one that could spearhead the amphibious offensive against Japan. MacArthur, however, briefly retained control of one component of the Marine division—Company A, 1st Tank Battalion. That unit's medium tanks landed on 22 April at Hollandia on the northern coast of New Guinea, but a swamp just beyond the beachhead prevented the Shermans from supporting the advance inland.

New Weapons in the Division's Arsenal

During the period of rehabilitation following the Guadalcanal campaign, the 1st Marine Division received two new weapons—the M4 medium tank, nicknamed the Sherman in honor of William Tecumseh Sherman whose Union troops marched from Atlanta to the sea, and the M-1 rifle. The new rifle, designed by John C. Garand, a civilian employee of the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, was a semi-automatic, gas-operated weapon, weighing 9.5 pounds and using an eight-round clip. Although less accurate at longer range than the former standard rifle, the M-1903, which snipers continued to use, the M-1 could lay down a deadly volume of fire at the comparatively short ranges typical of jungle warfare.

In addition, the division received the M4A1, an early version of the Sherman tank, which MacArthur valued so highly that he borrowed a company of them from the 1st Marine Division for the Hollandia operation. The model used by the Marines weighed 34 tons, mounted a 75mm gun, and had frontal armor some three inches thick. Although a more formidable weapon than the 16-ton high tank, with a 37mm gun, the medium tank had certain shortcomings. A high silhouette made it a comparatively easy target for Japanese gunners, who fortunately did not have a truly deadly anti-tank weapon, and narrow treads provided poor traction in the mud of New Britain.

Marine infantrymen, some of them using the M1 rifle for the first time in combat, and a Sherman tank form a deadly team in the comparatively open country near the Cape Gloucester airfields. Department of Defense (USMC) photo 69146

The commanding general of the Army's 40th Infantry Division, Major General Rapp Brush, arrived at New Britain on 10 April to arrange for the relief. His advance echelon arrived on the 23d and the remainder of the division five days later. The 1st Marine Division departed in two echelons on 6 April and 4 May. Left behind was the 12th Defense Battalion, which continued to provide antiaircraft defense for the Cape Gloucester airfields until relieved by an Army unit late in May.

In a campaign lasting four months, the 1st Marine Division had plunged into the unforgiving jungle and overwhelmed a determined and resolute enemy, capturing the Cape Gloucester airfields and driving the Japanese from western New Britain. A number of factors helped the Marines defeat nature and the Japanese. Allied control of the air and the sea provided mobility and disrupted the coastal barge traffic upon which the enemy had to depend for the movement of large quantities of supplies, especially badly needed medicines, during the retreat to Rabaul. Warships and landing craft armed with rockets—supplemented by such improvisations as tanks or rocket-equipped amphibian trucks firing from landing craft—supported the landings, but the size of the island and the lack of fixed coastal defenses limited the effectiveness of the various forms of naval gunfire. Using superior engineering skills, the Marines defied swamp and undergrowth to bring forward tanks that crushed enemy emplacements and added to the already formidable American firepower. Although photo analysis, an art that improved rapidly, misinterpreted the nature of the damp flat, Marine intelligence made excellent use of captured Japanese documents throughout the campaign. In the last analysis, the courage and endurance of the average Marine made victory possible, as he braved discomfort, disease, and violent death during his time in the green inferno.

Next Page Document Cover Next Page
MARINES The Few. The Proud.
Back to Top
Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division