«CHAPTER 1 1 THE ADMIRALTIE S AVING secured the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General H MacArthur made ready to complete the isolation of ...»
CHAPTER 1 1
THE ADMIRALTIE S
AVING secured the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General
H MacArthur made ready to complete the isolation of Rabaul b y
seizing Kavieng, the Admiralties and the Hansa Bay area in New Guinea.
Admiral Halsey's South Pacific forces would seize Kavieng on 1st Apri l
and on the same day South-West Pacific forces would invade the Seeadle r
Harbour area in the Admiralties. Orders were issued for these operation s on 13th February.
The Allies wanted the Admiralties not so much because they woul d help isolate Rabaul, but because they would serve as a substitute fo r Rabaul. Seeadler Harbour, fifteen miles long and four wide, was capabl e of sheltering large naval forces ; and, on Los Negros, airfields could b e built from which aircraft could reach out to Truk and Biak. Genera l Kenney planned to use his entire bomber force in the New Guinea are a in support of the Admiralty Islands operation. Squadrons of the Aus- tralian No. 9 Group during the campaign were to neutralise enemy air forces in central New Britain and be prepared to occupy Manus Islan d with three fighter squadrons. Kenney also directed that two Liberator squadrons of the No. 380 Bombardment Group in the Darwin area shoul d go to Nadzab to aid in the bombing operations. North-Western Are a was also directed to help by carrying out armed reconnaissances of Jefma n Island, Halmahera, Noemfoor, Ambon and Babo to defeat enemy attempt s to move aircraft or ships through those areas towards the Admiralties.
This duty was to begin on 15th March and continue through D-day (1s t April) to the 7th April.
The R.A.A.F's No. 73 Wing, then at Kiriwina, was chosen as th e fighter wing to garrison the Admiralties for a period of ninety days, afte r which this duty would be taken over by South Pacific forces. No. 7 3 Wing was commanded by Wing Commander Steege and included Nos.
76, 77 and 79 Squadrons. In addition to these squadrons No. 49 Opera- tional Base Unit, No. 27 Air Stores Park and No. 26 Medical Clearin g Station would accompany the wing. It was also planned that R.A.A.F.
signals and fighter-sector personnel should land soon after 1st April an d have everything in readiness for the fighters to operate immediately the y were called forward to Los Negros. A total R.A.A.F. strength of 2,77 5 would be moved.
Air Commodore Lukis had protested strongly to Air Force Headquar- ters in Melbourne and to General Kenney when squadrons of No. 9 Grou p were assigned to the Admiralty Islands operation, on the ground that ther e would be little work for the fighter squadrons to do there. Contact with the enemy air forces was unlikely. General Kenney and General Whitehea d (deputy commander of the Fifth Air Force) pointed out that Manu s Island was to be developed into a naval base and that it was essential
that it be given adequate fighter protection. They overruled Lukis' objections and preparations began immediately for the move of No. 73 Wing.
it was important that the R.A.A.F. fighters should be established as quickly as possible in the Admiralties to provide fighter cover because fighter s operating from New Guinea bases and Cape Gloucester would be too fa r away to remain long in the air over Manus.
Late in February, when it became clear to Kenney that the Japanes e air forces were abandoning the Bismarck Archipelago he conceived th e idea that a small force of troops could immediately seize and hold Los Negros Island. Kenney briskly relates how he put to MacArthur thi s proposal to move into the Admiralty Islands five weeks ahead of schedul e
and how the general had readily agreed :
On the evening of the 23rd [February] the daily reconnaissance report indicate d that the Jap might be withdrawing his troops from Los Negros back to Manus.
There was nothing for him to stay for....
The message of the evening of the 24th confirmed my estimate. It said that the reconnaissance plane had flown at low altitude all over the island for hal f an hour. No one had fired a shot at it. There was still a heap of dirt in fron t of the Jap field hospital door that had been piled there two days before by th e bombing. There had been no washing on the lines for three days. In short, Lo s Negros was ripe for the picking.
I went upstairs to General MacArthur's office and proposed that we seize th e place immediately with a few hundred troops and some engineers, who woul d quickly put the airdrome in shape so that if necessary we could reinforce th e place by air. Kinkaid had a lot of destroyers at Milne Bay and we could use them for a fast express run as the Japs had done to us all through the Bun a Campaign. We could load a couple of hundred of General Swift's crack 1st Cavalry Division on each destroyer, run up there during the night, and unload and seiz e the place at daybreak. I could have fighters overhead and bombers to knock ou t the Japs if they did try to stop us from stealing Los Negros from under their noses. If the weather should stop me from supporting the show, it would als o prevent the Jap air force from interfering. We need not take any real chances.
On arrival off the island, if the Nips did too much shooting, we could alway s call it an armed reconnaissance and back out. On the other hand, if we got ashore and could stick, we could forget all about Kavieng and maybe even Hans a Bay. Manus was the key spot controlling the whole Bismarck Sea. l MacArthur agreed ; but Kenney's hope that the enemy might be with drawing from Los Negros was not realised. In fact Colonel Ezaki, the garrison commander, was fully aware of the coming invasion, he had prohibited all firing at Allied aircraft, and allowed no movement in the ope n until 5 p.m. each day to create the impression that the defending force s had gone. Allied scouts who arrived in a Catalina on the 27th Februar y went ashore and found the place "lousy with Japs". The landing of this Catalina, according to a Japanese officer interrogated later, had bee n observed and the forces were ordered to prepare for immediate action.
Japanese troops in the Admiralties numbered 2,615. General Imamura, anticipating the danger, had sent a battalion of the 38th Division to the island in February to reinforce the garrison, the main force of which was stationed on Los Negros.
' General Kenney Reports. pp. 358-9.
Officer to coordinate signals services between the R.A.A.F. units engage d and the Sixth American Army. He was accompanied by a party of twelv e R.A.A.F. men of No. 114 Fighter Sector, who were to set up the fighter defence organisation.
A supreme effort was made by the enemy on the night of 3rd-4th March when they attacked in a series of waves, but were repulsed. To th e astonishment of the American soldiers, one of the enemy attacks wa s preceded by the playing of a gramophone record Deep in the Heart o f Texas! More American reinforcements arrived on the 4th, 6th and 9t h March.
The ground party of No. 77 Squadron arrived in an L.S.T. on the morning of 6th March in a convoy that also brought American reinforcements. The party, comprising nine officers and 194 airmen under Fligh t Lieutenant Irwin, 4 had left Goodenough Island on 2nd March and Finschhafen on the 4th. The convoy had to enter Hyane Harbour through a small opening in the reef about 120 feet wide. As the ships entered, Japanese troops on a point opposite, about 300 yards off, fired on them with machine-guns and 25-mm cannon. The L.S.T.'s in the convoy re turned the fire and destroyers also opened up on them. When the America n reinforcements filed ashore from the L.S.T.'s they were marched to th e front line about 200 yards along the beach. At this time the area held by the Americans comprised the airfield and a narrow area between th e airfield and the sea. One of the first Australians off the L.S.T. asked a near-by American where the front line was. The American replied : "Boy, you're right in it! " The men of the R.A.A.F. set to work unloading 600 tons of squadron equipment, while American Mitchell bombers carried out a bombing an d strafing attack on enemy positions only 300 yards away. At nightfall the y dug foxholes along the fringe of the beach and from these kept watch fo r enemy infiltration. Small parties of the enemy came forward during th e night, but none reached the air force positions. Some days later aide d by American engineers the Australians began to hack a site for their cam p out of the jungle.
Meanwhile, at Kiriwina, the pilots of No. 76 Squadron stood by their machines ready for the order to fly to Momote as soon as the airfiel d there was ready to receive them. General Kenney had directed that the R.A.A.F. fighters should arrive between D-plus-five days (4th March ) and D-plus-ten (9th March). The aircraft of No. 76 were to travel fro m Kiriwina to Finschhafen and then on to Momote. On arrival at Momote half the squadron was to land, refuel and be brought to "stand-by" a s quickly as possible while the other half patrolled overhead. When th e
first half had been brought to stand-by the remainder would land, refue l and also come to stand-by.
The advanced ground party of No. 76 which was to go to Momot e ahead of the flying echelon of the squadron, was directed by No. 9 Group to move on 4th March. The order for the movement of this advance d party had come unexpectedly at Kiriwina and men of the whole squadro n had worked feverishly for eighteen hours to prepare the party and it s equipment for this emergency move. However it could not take place o n 4th March because at that date American engineers preparing the airfiel d for use were still being fired on by Japanese snipers and the airfield wa s not ready for operations. Advanced headquarters of the Fifth Air Forc e therefore signalled No. 9 Group informing Lukis that the "tactical situation... prohibits troop carrier operation at this time ". Since ground crew s of No. 76 could not be moved to Momote, the ground crews of No. 7 7 Squadron, who would arrive on 6th March, were directed to take ove r the handling of No. 76 's aircraft.
By 7th March, the American engineers had 3,500 feet of the Momot e airfield ready, and that afternoon the first Allied aircraft to reach th e island—an American Mitchell—landed. On the same day, twenty-three Kittyhawks of No. 76, whose pilots included Wing Commander Steege, commander of the wing, and Squadron Leader Loudon,6 commander of No. 76, left Kiriwina for Finschhafen. After twenty-four hours dela y at Finschhafen, twelve of these aircraft were called forward to Momote.
They were guided to the island by a Mitchell and landed at Momote o n the afternoon of 9th March. Steege found that because of Japanese nigh t activity no tents had been put up, and the R.A.A.F. men on the islan d were living under the most primitive conditions, including sleeping a t night in damp, unhygienic dugouts. Unburied Japanese dead lay around the airfield bringing swarms of flies. The pilots had to spend the first night in the open in drizzling rain. Sleep was disturbed by the constan t fusillade of small arms fire at shadows and movement.
The twelve Kittyhawks came to readiness immediately they arrived o n 9th March and the remaining twelve aircraft of No. 76 arrived at midda y on the 10th. One of these crashed on landing but the pilot escaped injury.
There were a number of ships standing off shore and the naval commande r asked Steege to provide Kittyhawks for patrols to counter possible enem y air attacks. A standing patrol was provided from dawn until dusk o n 10th March. On this day two Kittyhawks were ordered off the groun d to attempt the interception of an enemy plane reported by radar sout h of Los Negros, but they failed to find the enemy aircraft and were recalle d to base. Before landing they made a general search of the area but foun d no signs of enemy activity.
Fifth Air Force Fighter Command, on 11th March, directed No. 7 3 Wing to provide fighter cover for a squadron of Mitchell bombers whic h were to bomb Lorengau airfield on Manus. Twelve Kittyhawks of No. 7 6 ^Sqn Ldr I. S. Loudon, DFC, 404691. 603 Sqn RAF ; comd 76 Sqn 1943-44. Rubber planter ; of Port Moresby, Papua : b. Port Moresby, 17 Oct 1921.
17 5 KITTYHAWKS DAMAGED 11-15 Mar
led by Loudon took off at 10 a.m. and carried out this duty withou t meeting interference from the enemy. The same day reports arrived of the approach of an enemy naval force, and all available Kittyhawks wer e armed with 500-lb bombs to attack it. However, further searches faile d to find this force and it was considered that low-lying islands to the nort h of Manus had been mistaken for enemy naval vessels.
About 10 p.m. on the night of the 11th March Japanese aircraft droppe d four bombs on the runway of Momote airfield. They damaged four of the Kittyhawks, but the ground crews repaired these aircraft during th e night and all were ready for flying early next morning.
An American patrol had been sent to reconnoitre Hauwei Island o n 11th March to find suitable advanced artillery positions for support o f a landing on Manus Island. This patrol had been badly mauled by th e enemy, and next day the American commander called for artillery, air and naval support while a larger force landed. No. 76 provided six Kittyhawks which bombed and strafed the western tip of the island. Four of their 500-lb bombs fell on the target area and two landed in the se a fifty yards south of it. The landing by a squadron of the 7th Cavalry was successful although they met stern resistance from the enemy. Th e occupation was completed the following day.