Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
The Munda Drive and the Fighting Ninth
Milk Runs and Black Sheep
A Joint Pattern for Victory
Special Subjects
Troop List
Individual Combat Clothing and Equipment
The 'Green Dragon' Landing Ship, Tank
The 'Long Tom' 155mm M1A1 Gun
Field Medicine
Flight Clothing and Equipment
The Douglas R4D 'Skytrain'

UP THE SLOT: Marines in the Central Solomons
by Major Charles D. Melson, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)

The Munda Drive and the Fighting Ninth

Elements of four Marine defense battalions played an important part in the Central Solomons campaign. Attached to the XIV Corps to support of the attack on Munda Point was the 9th Defense Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William J. Scheyer. The battalion was organized with an artillery group (Batteries A and B), a heavy antiaircraft group (Batteries C through F), a light antiaircraft group (Batteries G through I), and a headquarters and service battery The 9th Defense Battalion's participation in the Guadalcanal campaign from December 1942 had provided it needed experience, as the island was typical of conditions to be found in the Central Solomons. Some Marines from the light antiaircraft group were withdrawn from gun crews to train with the battalion's tank platoon for tank-infantry operations. The greatest challenge in preparing for the campaign was Lieutenant Colonel Archie E. O'Neil's conversion of his seacoast artillery into a field artillery unit, at the same time absorbing 145 new men into the group. This was accomplished in 22 days, a feat that Admiral Halsey complimented.

One of the major equipment changes for the campaign was the acquisition of 155mm guns as replacements for the older M1918 French Grande Puissance Filloux (GPF) guns. The battalion exchanged 90mm guns with the Army 70th Coast Artillery Battalion, giving the antiaircraft group new guns. High-speed and standard dual-mounts for 20mm guns were also obtained. These were adapted by the 9th from 37mm gun mounts, giving the light antiaircraft group greatly increased mobility by replacing the stationary naval single-mounts. The 9th Defense Battalion obtained additional .30-caliber heavy, water-cooled machine guns, and trained the battalion band to employ them with Headquarters and Service Battery. The battalion acquired three Landing Vehicle Tracked Alligator amphibious tractors for the operation, and then was augmented by a whole amphibious tractor platoon of nine vehicles from the 3d Marine Division.

landing of the artillery group
This picture gives a clear view of the beach congestion that plagued the landing of the artillery group with its 155mm guns. At right is a .50-caliber antiaircraft gun of the Special Weapons Group. Marine Corps Historical Collection

landing of the antiaircraft group
The antiaircraft group of the 9th Defense Battalion moves ashore at Rendova. Here a TD9 tractor pulls a 90mm gun from an LST. The TD9 tractor would soon prove too light to move through the muddy terrain beyond the beach. Marine Corps Historical Collection

On 27 June 1943, the battalion consisted of a total of 1,459 officers and men, reinforced with additional personnel from the 3d Marine Division and I Marine Amphibious Corps. Most of these Marines had been on Guadalcanal for seven months. At one time or another, 40 percent of them had malaria and the debilitating effects of the tropics had been felt by the entire unit. But the 9th was a well-trained, experienced unit, outfitted with the best equipment then available to Marine defense battalions. In the words of Lieutenant Colonel Scheyer, "the prospect of closing with the enemy was all that was needed to supply morale."

Buckingham, O'Brien, Duhamel, Hancock, Jr.
The first Japanese aircraft shot down from the beach was credited to this gun crew on its first day ashore. From the left are 1stLt William A. Buckingham, PFC Francis W O'Brien, Cpl Paul V. Duhamel, and PFC Nemo Hancock, Jr., of the 9th Defense Battalion. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 56812

On 29 June, the 9th Defense Battalion was attached to XIV Corps for the duration of the New Georgia operation. The battalion was given the mission assisting in the capture, occupation, and defense of Rendova Island, by landing on the beaches south of Renard Channel entrance. Here it was to move immediately into position to provide antiaircraft defense. A third mission was to fire 155mm guns on the enemy installations, bivouac areas, and the airfield at Munda. As a fourth task, the tank platoon would support the attack on Munda Airfield. Fifth, the battalion would be prepared to repel attack by hostile surface vessels. When the Japanese forces on New Georgia Island were overrun, the battalion would then move as a whole or in part to Munda to defend the field when Allied air units moved in and began operating. All these assigned tasks reflected the battalion's varied capabilities.

40mm gun and crew
A 40mm gun and crew look skyward for Japanese aircraft as the XIV Corps landing continues. Landing Craft Infantry (LCIs) are run up on the beach in the background, as working parties unload them by hand. Marine Corps Historical Collection

Lieutenant Colonel Scheyer said on leaving Guadalcanal that the Japanese "have a mistaken notion that they must die for their Emperor and our job is to help them do that just as fast as we possibly can." At 1600 on 29 June, the 9th's first echelon, 28 officers and 641 enlisted Marines, combat loaded on board the USS Libra (AK-53) and USS Algorab (AK-25), the vessels assigned to transport the battalion, and sailed from Guadalcanal. At Munda, a Japanese defender observed that a "blue signal flare from Rendova Point went up. I saw four enemy warships . . . this morning, rain clouds hovered over us. At Rendova, four cruisers, three destroyers, eight transports and countless numbers of boats appeared."

At 0635 the morning of 30 June, the first units of the XIV Corps' assault wave began landing on Kokorana Island and East Beach of Rendova. They were met by Coastwatcher Flight Lieutenant D. C. Horton and guides from the amphibious reconnaissance patrols.

Both on Kokorana and on Rendova, lead elements of the 9th found themselves landing ahead of the assault forces, meeting only light resistance. The battalion band soon took out an enemy machine gun position. Major Robert C. Hiatt's reconnaissance party from the artillery group killed another enemy soldier, who was said to have been stripped of souvenirs before hitting the ground. The defenders with drew inland to harass the Americans from the hills and swamps.

Throughout the day, enemy air attacks were turned back by friendly fighters. Allied fighters over the area on 30 June reportedly destroyed over 100 enemy aircraft. One attack by Japanese float planes got through to strike at the naval task force and damaged Admiral Turner's flagship, USS McCawley (AP 10), so heavily that it had to be sunk that night by a PT boat. At 1600, a lone Mitsubishi A6M Zeke fighter strafed the beach without causing any damage and was driven off by defense battalion ma chine gun fire, without causing damage. Both the Algorab and Libra were unloaded with the assistance of the 24th Naval Construction Battalion. The 24th, and other Seabee units, supported the 9th in unloading cargo and moving equipment and contributed materially to the general success of the battalion on those first days and the battalion was "in their debt." On the first day of landing, Battery E of the Antiaircraft Group set up on Kokorana and was prepared to fire by 1645; all Special Weapons Group light antiaircraft guns landed and were emplaced along the coast to protect the XIV Corps' beachhead; sites were located for the 155mm and the remaining 90mm batteries. Battery demolition crews ventured near and into enemy territory to blast out fields of fire for the gun positions.

Weather and terrain made unloading and emplacement extremely difficult for XIV Corps, the 43d Infantry Division, and the 9th Defense Battalion. Torrential rains began on 30 June and continued almost without cessation, rendering what passed for roads impassable and causing great congestion on the beaches as men and supplies came ashore. Areas believed suitable for occupation proved to be swampy. Steel matting and corduroy roads constructed with coconut logs were utilized, but even these were ineffective. Tanks, guns, and vehicles of all types mired down in the incredible mud and only the sturdiest tractors or manpower extricated them. The congestion of supplies on the beachhead rendered them and the troops moving them selves and the supplies inland vulnerable to enemy air attack.

The 'Green Dragon' Landing Ship, Tank

Amphibious warfare in the Pacific required ships A with ocean-going capabilities that could also be "beached" in the course of landing operations. This requirement was met with the design and production of the Landing Ship, Tank (LST) that was used in combat for the first time in the Central Solomons, where it earned its nickname because of a camouflage paint scheme. There were 1,052 LSTs built during World War II for the U.S. Navy, with minor differences between the various classes. The LSTs had elevators and deck ramps to connect the main deck and tank deck, providing for smaller landing craft to be transported on the main deck, and a conning tower added over the pilot house. They were armed with 40mm and 20mm antiaircraft guns in twin and single mounts. The LSTs displaced 1,653 tons, with a length of 328 feet, a beam of 50 feet, and were driven by General Motor diesels.


In many cases, 9th Defense Battalion equipment had to be dismantled and carried to assigned areas. The 9th's motor transport section performed as best it could with the resources available and until the majority of its vehicles burned out from the strain of operating in the Rendova muck. Their task was made easier by the amphibious tractors, which were the only sure means of transportation and these had troubles of their own as they threw off their tracks on uneven terrain. "Frances," "Tootsie," and "Gladys" were three amphibious tractors in the beach area manned by nine 3d Division Marines who operated continuously keeping supplies moving from position to position. All tractors were damaged eventually in the Japanese air attacks that followed.

The 9th Defense Battalion's second echelon arrived on LSTs (Landing Ships Tank) 395 and 354 and disembarked at Rendova on l July as Allied fighter cover continued to turn back enemy air attacks. Joseph J. Pratl with Battery A, which came in on LST 354, wrote the ship was "big and slow moving, loaded with ammunition of every description.... Unloading was done quickly, 155mm guns and their tractors soon made mud and made a slime which made walking around difficult to say the least." By the end of the day, Captain Henry H. Reichner's Battery A was in firing position. A third battalion echelon arrived in LSTs 342 and 398 and disembarked on 2 July. That morning Captain Walter C. Well's Battery B was emplaced and Battery A commenced shelling enemy positions in the Munda area. On 3 July, both batteries of "Long Toms" fired for effect on the Munda airfield and enemy artillery positions on Baanga Island. At Munda a defender wrote, "They must be firing like the dickens. Sometimes they all come at once. I don't exactly appreciate this shelling."

Supplies are landed by XIV Corps for ComAir New Georgia. The terrain behind the beach did not allow for rapid movement and for the dispersal of supplies which soon piled up at an unmanageable rate and became extremely vulnerable to Japanese attack. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60590

The combat experience of the 9th paid dividends, especially during the first week ashore. The Marines knew how to dig in for air attacks and this saved lives. At 1335, 2 July, 18 Mitsubishi G4M Betty bombers and Zeke fighter escorts entered the area from the southwest and pattern-bombed the beachhead, causing considerable damage and many casualties. Zero fighters flew over the beach area at tree-top level, strafing and bombing the beach and landing craft. Gasoline storage tanks and an explosives dump were hit and several fires were started in the area. Battery A's Pratl recounted, "we saw the bombers, we assumed them to be American B—25s. We hit foxholes and the earth shook like a rubber band as three bombs fell" near his battery.

Sailors and soldiers make a corduroy road
Sailors and soldiers make a corduroy road from coconut logs across an exceptionally muddy spot. Marine Corps Historical Collection

155mm Long Tom
A 155mm Long Tom is dragged through the mud of Rendova en route to a new position from which it could punish Japanese positions and at the same time defend against Japanese counterattacks. Marine Corps Historical Collection

Battery A loads its Long Toms on an LCT
Capt Henry H. Reichner's Battery A loads its Long Toms on an LCT to move to Piru Plantation from Tambusolo Island. These moves were staggered to provide continuous artillery support during this phase and were carried out with speed and efficiency. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60656

On board a beached landing ship, tank, Francis E. Chadwick, of Battery B, was hauling ammunition for a Navy 40mm antiaircraft gun when the "LST was showered in water. You could feel the heat from the bombs. The noise was deafening." Army and Navy units suffered the most from lack of preparation and the area around the landing beach became known as "Suicide Point."

Four 9th Defense Battalion men were killed, one was missing, and 22 were wounded as a result of the raid. Damage to the battalion included two 155mm guns hit, two 40mm guns hit, three amphibious tractors hit, one TD18 tractor demolished, and an unknown amount of supplies and personal gear destroyed. One bomb landed between the trail legs of one 155mm gun in Battery A, but failed to detonate. This put the gun out of action until the bomb was excavated, pulled clear, and detonated. That day, the battalion bomb disposal teams successfully removed or destroyed a total of 9 bombs and 65 unexploded projectiles of 105mm or larger (Over 9,000 pieces of smaller enemy or damaged friendly ordnance were recovered by the end of the campaign by these teams). Some light antiaircraft guns fired at the raiding planes, but downed none. The damage caused by this attack was due in part to the lack of working surveillance radar, and friendly fighter cover had been withdrawn because of weather. The battalion's SCR270 and 516 radars had not yet been installed and the E Battery SCR268 radar had been fueled with diesel from a drum marked "gasoline," putting it out of action at the time of the attack.

Japanese attack
The Japanese struck back hard at the New Georgia invasion force with bombers and fighters. Allied combat air patrols shot down many of the enemy, but some got through to damage Marine positions on Rendova. This area became known as "Suicide Point" after fuel and explosives dumps were hit during the 2 July 1943 raid. Marine Corps Historical Collection

9th Defense Battalion
Behind a revetment of sandbags and coconut logs, this 9th Defense Battalion crew manning a 90mm antiaircraft gun keeps vigilant watch against Japanese air attacks on positions at the beach at Rendova. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 60624

Earning special credit during this period were the battalion's attached Navy corpsmen and doctors, who performed their work in the midst of enemy raids and under the most trying conditions. Besides caring for the 9th's casualties at the battalion aid station set up on the exposed East Beach of Rendova, battalion surgeon Lieutenant Commander Miles C. Krepelas treated many Navy wounded, and Army troops returning from New Georgia who could not locate their own medical detachments.

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